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Malathi Nidadavolu 



© Malathi Nidadavolu 
e-Book edition 201 1 

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A Writer With A Purpose And A Pioneer In Women's Movement 

Varalakshmamma was an avid social activist, active participant in Gandhian movement, a social 
conscious writer and a great speaker. She was born on October 6 th , 1886. Her parents were 
Palaparthi Seshayya and Hanumayamma. She had seven siblings — five brothers and two sisters. 
She was married in 1909 to Kanuparthi Hanumantha Rao, an educated and sophisticated 
gentleman and health inspector by profession. He supported Varalakshmamma 's activities 

In the history of India, it was a crucial time. The country, inspired by Gandhi, was fighting for 
freedom from the British rule. The state of Andhra Pradesh was sizzling with the nationalist 
spirit and the social movements advocated by Veeresalingam. 

Varalakshmamma threw in her lot with these political and social movements at an early age. She 
worked towards not only improving the living conditions for women but also encouraging them 
actively to participate in these movements. She traveled around the country to promote the ideals 
she believed in. 

Varalakshmamma' s father and brothers encouraged her to read ever since she was a child. One 
of the contributory factors in her writing was her neighbors. As the story goes, there were some 
illiterate older women in her neighborhood who migrated from Maharashtra. They used to ask 
Varalakshmamma to read the letters they had received from their relatives back home and then 
ask her to write replies to those letters. They would often tell their thoughts in their own clumsy 
way and Varalakshmamma took it upon herself to think through and put them in a cogent 
manner. She was in 3 rd grade at the time. This practice of reorganizing the thoughts helped her to 
develop a series column, sarada lekhalu, in her later years (which will be discussed later.). 

Since her childhood, she was interested in reading. Her father and brothers played a significant 
role in developing her writing skills. She wrote her first story 1919 at the suggestion of her 
brother Anjaneyulu, who had read an English story to her and asked her to write it in Telugu. 
With great determination, she finished it. It was published in anasuya monthly under the 
pseudonym 'Saudamini'. Although it was written after reading an English story, it read like a 
Telugu original. 

After publishing her first story, she continued to write. Her next significant contribution was a 
feature column maa chettuneeda mucchatlu [Chitchat in the shade of our tree] in Andhra patrika 
weekly under the pseudonym Leelavati. In the column, Varalakshmamma discussed important 
issues such as education for women, traditions, politics, modern trends and many more. 

The column ran for six years. In 1928, the same management started another magazine, 
gruhalakshmi, in which Varalakshmamma was invited to write regularly. She started another 
column, Sarada lekhalu [Letters from Sarada] under another pseudonym Sarada. The letters were 
addressed to an imaginary friend, Kalpalata. In these letters, Varalakshmamma discussed potent 
issues such as Sharda Act, divorce law, khadi movement, non-cooperation, erasing 


untouchability, unfounded customs, physical exercise, the changes implemented in 
measurements and weights, microphones and many more. The list is sufficient to show the 
diversity in the topics she was writing about. The Sarada lekhalu set a new standard in the genre 
of letter- writing in Telugu literature. It is a milestone. 

Varalakshmamma wrote poetry, stories, novels, and plays. Her writings were broadcast on All 
India Radio and doordarshan (Indian TV). She participated in literary meets with high-ranking 
poets of our time and sometimes she was the only woman writer in a given meet. She was also a 
powerful orator. Because of her husband's job as health inspector, they moved to several towns 
and that helped her to develop contacts in several places and deliver inspiring speeches. 

Some of her stories that received critical acclaim are penshanu puccukunna naati raatri [The 
night after retirement], katha etla undaale [How a story should be?], kuteeralakshmi [The 
Goddess in a Cottage], and aidu maasamula iruvadi dinamulu [Five months and twenty days]. 

In penshanu puccukunna naati raatri, the author describes the mental state of a couple after the 
husband retired. The author describes their mental state — a sense of despair, depression, apathy, 
and fear of future without income — in a manner that brings about empathy in the readers, says 
Polapragada Rajyalakshmi, a veteran writer and close friend of Varalakshmamma. 

In kuteeralakshmi, Varalakshmamma depicts the ruination of cottage industries as a result of the 
economic devastation following the First World War. It was published in Andhra Patrika Ugadi 
issue, 1924. 

The protagonist's (Ramalakshmi's) husband started a dyeing clothes business on a large scale 
and was successful until the Second World War caused the country to collapse economically. He 
lost everything and died. After his death, Ramalakshmi had to start all over again to feed her two 
little children. At first she took several odd jobs and later, started working on the spinning wheel 
to make a living. The story ended with a sad note that the protagonist never got a chance at good 

Sad as it sounds, that has been the reality in India. The small farmer, the small business, the 
mom-and-pop store round the corner took a downward turn and never recovered as India kept 
moving towards modernization. 

Varalakshmamma' s first novel vasumati was published in 1925. In her preface, she stated that 
she was 14 when she heard a woman narrate her heartbreaking story to her (Varalakshmamma 's) 
mother. After a couple of years, she wrote it and threw it into a box. After eight years, she pulled 
it out in the hope of publishing it. However, she noticed that some of the pages were worn out, 
and some were stained by medicines and oils. Varalakshmamma decided to rewrite the missing 
pages and publish it. Thus she would consider the novel a re -write of the original. 

The novel illustrates the life of a young woman. Vasumati was only three when her father died 
leaving her mother a widow at the age of 25. The mother, Mahalakshmi shoulders the 
responsibility of arranging marriages for the two girls and educating a son, Ramachandra. She 
performs the marriage of her first daughter Rajyalakshmi with her husband's sister's son, per 
husband's wishes. After that, she arranges Vasumati's wedding with Ananda Rao, from a 
respectable family in Narasaraopet. Ananda Rao befriends Krishnamurthy, a wanton, and 
Nagamani, a prostitute. 

Ananda Rao's older brother and mother encourage him to bring Vasumati and set up a family. 
They hope that his wife's presence would help him to come to his sense. In stead, Ananda Rao 


ill-treats her for a while, sends her back to her natal home, and moves to Rangoon along with 
Nagamani. In Rangoon, Nagamani turns cozy up to other men and plays Ananda Rao for a fool. 

Ananda Rao, desperate for money, finds Sundara Rao, a Telugu publisher and a kindhearted 
man. He understands Ananda Rao's situation and tries to persuade him to bring his wife to 
Rangoon but to avail. Eventually, Ananda Rao sees a novel, Haridasi, on Sundara Rao's desk 
and takes it to his room. He finds the story gripping, since it reads very much like his wife's 
story. He is moved by the story, realizes his mistakes and returns home. He brings Vasumati 
back to his home and they all live happily ever after. 

Unlike the ending in the Goddess in a Cottage, the story of Vasumati ends with a joyous note. 

Into this story, the author weaves several contemporary issues such as women's education, the 
dowry system, family values, especially those cherished by brothers towards their sisters. Her 
comments on women's education are particularly important in the light of her being part of the 
Veeresalingam's movement for educating women. There is however a marked difference in her 
approach. While Veeresalingam promoted education for women only to make them better wives 
and better mothers, Varalakshmamma takes it to a higher level. Her protagonist reads not only 
the books on women's duties to her husband but also other subjects such as English literature, 
Telugu literature, prosody, history, geography, and math. Her brother Ramachandra helps her 
which again a practice in vogue (p. 17). As I mentioned earlier, the author had received immense 
support from her brothers. 

The author presents Vasumati's brother, Ramachandra, as an ideal young man — a social 
reformer and patriot who is interested in women's welfare, elimination of dowry and bride -price 
systems; he is also interested in foreign travel. He shuns ancient practices but holds no grudge 
against them. He is the kind of person who would study both ancient and modern philosophies, 
examine them carefully and accept the good things from each one of them. He studies English 
yet does not take to their bad habits such as cigarettes and liquor. 

Author's keen awareness of the changes that had been taking place in the society was obvious in 
incorporating people's migration to Rangoon in search of wealth. For instance, in Rangoon, 
Ananda Rao was caught in a dilemma. Nagamani, whom he trusted, was playing him, one day 
embracing him and another day rejecting him. He was totally at her mercy. Sundara Rao, his 
employer, sees Ananda Rao's situation and tries to persuade him to bring his wife. He gives him 
books to read; tells him in so many ways to get his act together. Ananda Rao would not listen. 
However, one book, Haridasi, helps him see the light. I liked this twist. Human nature being 
what it is the time has to come for anybody to see the light of day. It does not happen in just one 
stroke or move. In that, the author succeeded in presenting a situation authentically. 

The author's command of diction and imagery are superb. Varalakshmamma possessed a 
captivating style. The language is not colloquial by current standards but it was at the time it was 
written. It is narrated in semi-classical Telugu as was common in her time. The author had 
penchant for long- winding phrases on occasion. I was amused by her description of Vasumati's 
beauty in one and a half pages. She gave almost the status of a classical heroine to Vasumati. 

For social historians, this makes an excellent reading. The author did an impressive job of 
presenting it for history. 


The book includes a preface by a noted language reformer, Gidugu Ramamurthi pantulu. He 
stated that "nowadays, there are plenty of political, historical, fictitious and critical novels but a 
social novel like this is rare." We have to understand it within the context. 

The book Viswamitra maharshi (1933) is a prose kavya. The author depicts Viswamitra as a 
highly disciplined rishi, a man of determination and strength, both physically and mentally, and a 
champion of human values. According to Varalakshmamma, Viswamitra believed in equality of 
all human beings. In the narrative, she included several contemporary issues such as the 
Brahmins and non-brahmins controversies, caste -related issues, and the social hierarchy. 

The author meticulously highlights the demarcations in the hierarchy of the supreme status of 
man - rishi, rajarshi, brahmarishi. Viswamitra's refusal to accept himself as brahmarishi unless 
the sage Vasishta called him so is significant. 

Some of the observations made by the author through her protagonist, Viswamitra, are valid even 
today. Viswamitra states, "One may overcome external forces using money or physical strength 
but no one can win over the inner foes. One may defeat sexual desires but defeating anger is the 
hardest" (p. 81). His realization that one would not be able to achieve the status of brahmarishi 
until and unless he had defeated his innate anger is a message for all mankind. 

Historically, the story of Viswamitra has been associated with the king Harischandra k nown for 
his truthfulness and for having his integrity tested by Viswamitra in the harshest way possible. 
The story, narrated to children, would usually present Viswamitra as ruthless and as an epitome 
of relentless anger. Varalakshmamma on the other hand attempts to depict him as a 
commendable character, commendable for his devotion, commitment, and fortitude. The author 
skillfully illustrates his innate strength and persistence in achieving the much coveted 
brahmarishi status. 

According to the legend, Viswamitra was born in a royal family with Brahmin qualities because 
of a mishap. Thus his unique but mixed qualities forced him to deal with conflicting emotions. 
He is forced to play the role of a prince while consumed by a desire to become a rishi. He goes 
into severe penance three times and each time fails to consummate his penance. First time, he 
gives up his penance to save a king who is accursed to be a chandala [untouchable] and reinstate 
his royal life; second time, gives in to his physical desires, and third time to his own anger. 
Finally, he realizes that his only way to salvation is to overcome anger. Eventually, he 
accomplishes his goal yet is not content until the highly revered sage Vasishta accepts it and 
addresses him as brahmarishi. 

Additionally, the author argues aptly that Viswamitra's story is enlightening regarding the 
arguments between the Brahmins and non-brahmins, the conflicts between the upper and lower 
classes, and the distinction between the physical and innate strength. According to 
Varalakshmamma, this story illustrates powerfully the fundamental philosophy that, despite 
one's birth in a given caste, a person may attain the highest status in human life by following the 
righteous path. 

Varalakshmamma was also against the irrational practices prevalent in our society. In Andhra 
Pradesh, it is common to burn a child on the forehead when he or she is afflicted with an ailment 
like tetanus. The author's disapproval of such practice is illustrated in the Cottage Goddess, by 
making an old man offer an empirical solution. 


I could not access all the books written by Varalakshmamma. Therefore, I shall take the liberty 
of quoting from Rajyalakshmi's monograph, in which the author conceptualized 
Varalakshmamma' s writings. 

"In each story, contemporary society is the dominant theme. The changing conditions, changing 
perceptions, the good and bad in them, to what extent the old should be adapted and how much 
of the new we should embrace, to what extent the social reform is needed and in what fields — 
are some of the topics she chose for her stories. 

"During the period Varalakshmamma started writing, that is 1920-1940, the story elements such 
as diction, style, brevity, totality and unity had not yet fully developed. . . . Therefore, we should 
not be using today's criteria to evaluate her stories. 

"Varalakshmamma 's stories are long. In a book, each story takes twenty to twenty-five pages. . . . 

In some stories, one part of the story happens in one place and another part in another place 

The time — months and years — is also the same way. ... In some stories, characters start out as 
children and end up as adults. 

"The author interferes in the narration to express her opinions and analyze a given situation. 

"Each one of her stories is written with a purpose. Most of the time, she writes seriously, with a 
touch of humor occasionally. Her humor never crosses the line though. 

"Style comes naturally to her. That writer's personality has a bearing on his/her style is true in 
her case. . . . Her views on how a story should be written are presented in her story, katha etlaa 
undaale (The Charm of a Cherished Story) and her stories reflect the same qualities." (29-33) 

Varalakshmamma, a woman of small build, barely 5 -foot tall, possessed enormous courage, 
determination and integrity. She was a driving force behind the women's and social movements 
in Andhra Pradesh. She founded stri hitaishini mandali [Women's welfare consortium] and 
yuvati vidyalayam [College for young women] in Bapatla, her hometown. 

Utukuri Lakshmikantamma narrated an incident in her sahiti rudrama, highlighting 
Varalakshmamma' s deep-rooted convictions. For an organization to run smoothly and 
successfully, it is important that rules are strictly adhered to. According to the story, one of the 
members failed to pay the dues on time and Varalakshmamma canceled her membership. 
Lakshmikantamma and a few others attempted to persuade Varalakshmamma to take the member 
back but to no avail. Varalakshmamma would rather risk losing a friend than allow indiscretion 
in running the organization. 

Her writings reflect her progressive views and insights unequivocally. 

Varalakshmamma passed on August 13, 1978. Nevertheless her spirit lives on. Senior writers 
and the elite of Andhra Pradesh cherish her memory fondly. I hope the current generation will 
learn about her. Those who can learn Telugu may find the monograph written by Polapragada 
Rajyalakshmi, Kanuparthi Varalakshmamma (Sahitya Akademi publication) gratifying. 

I had the honor of standing on the same stage with Varalakshmamma garu and Utukuri 
Lakshmikantamma garu in 1968 at the Andhra Women Writers Conference. That was a moment 
I would cherish forever. 


A Moving Encyclopedia, Poet And Eminent Literary Historian. 
(3 January 1903 - 15 October 1982) 

Vidyaratna, Kalaprapoorna Nidudavolu Venkatarao was a poet, scholar, and a literary historian 
with unusual flair. His contemporaries called him jangama vijnana sarvaswamu, a moving 
encyclopedia because of his extensive knowledge of classics in several languages and 
exceptional retention ability, because of which he was able to quote extempore from any text 

Venkatarao was born on 3 January 1903 in Vizianagaram. He was the fourth child and the first 
son, and as such, he was raised fondly by his parents, Sundaram Pantulu and Jogamma. 

The Nidudavolu lineage was known for rich scholarly tradition. His father, Sundaram Pantulu 
was a staunch follower of Saivite traditions, avid reader, and collector of classics in Telugu and 
Sanskrit. Later the collection was donated to Madras University, which was the beginning of the 
famous Madras Oriental Library. His mother Jogamma was eloquent storyteller. Anytime 
someone asked about something, she would go into a torrential narration. 

Early in life, Venkatarao had the ideal atmosphere to become well versed in Telugu and Sanskrit 
classics. He never read a book so he could say, "I have read it," and never forgot what he had 
read. Additionally, he had the extraordinary capability to remember whatever he had read, which 
was useful in his scholastic pursuits. "There is no book he had not read, and no book he had not 
read totally immersed in it. He is the global lamp that could show what is available in what 
corner (in literature)," commented Tirumala Ramachandra (as quoted by Nistala. Pariseelana. 
10). His zeal to gather information and record it for posterity set new standards in Telugu 

Even in his childhood days, Venkatarao used to compose poetry and sing in an enchanting voice 
at meetings and literary gatherings. In his later years, he continued to go to meetings, recite the 
invocation and read his poems. And he never finished the invocation with just one verse but 
two — one in Sanskrit and one in Telugu. His language skills in English and other Indian 
languages were remarkable. His English was equally appreciated by the elite in his time. 

Venkatarao attended high school and Intermediate (two-year, pre-degree course) in 
Visakhapatnam. Later he attended Maharaja College in Vizianagaram and obtained his 
Bachelor's degree in 1925. Due to financial reasons, he could not pursue studies and joined the 
Imperial Bank (now State Bank of India) as clerk in 1926, which he held until 1939. 

He was married while he was in Kakinada and the couple had five sons and two daughters. His 
first son, Sundareswara Rao followed his father in scholastic pursuits became a well-respected 
scholar. Venkatarao 's wife passed away in 1949. 

Venkatarao left his job at the Imperial bank in 1940 and went to Madras to obtain his master's 
degree. In 1942, he returned to Kakinada where he worked as Telugu lecturer for one year and 


then and went back to Madras University where he started as junior lecturer at Madras 
University and continued until retired as Head of the Telugu department in 1964. "I had to retire, 
although I could work five more years," said Venkatarao, which seems to imply he was forced to 

During this period however, Venkatarao surprised his audience with his scholarship, critical 
insights, and his unequaled retention power. He was often referred to as ekasanthaagraahi, 
meaning he could remember anything he had heard just once. At one time, it seems, a friend 
asked him about a word in vijayavilasam by Chemakura Venkata kavi, and Venkatarao, standing 
under a tree, recited the entire text. C.S. Rao, writer, actor and movie director said his was 
computer brain, not without merit. ( letter dated 5 January 1985, as quoted by Dr. Nistala.). 

Dr. Nistala Venkata Rao studied the works of Nidudavolu Venkatarao for his M.Phil, and later 
Ph.D. He discussed the monumental work of Nidudavolu Venkatarao and the massive 
contribution to Telugu literature in great detail in his book, Nidudavolu Venkatarao - 
pariseelana [Nidudavolu Venkatarao - A Study]. 

A brief note is in order here. Since the names of the two authors — the subject of this article and 
the researcher are the same and even the initial letter in their surnames is the same, I decided to 
refer to the researcher, Dr. Nistala Venkata Rao as Nistala, and Nidudavolu Venkatarao as 
Venkatarao. And, Nistala 's book as pariseelana. 

Further, my surname is also Nidadavolu. Venkatarao garu and my father were first cousins 
(children of two brothers). There is however a small difference, a variation in spelling the 
surnames. Venkatarao garu always spelled his surname as Nidudavolu (with 'u' in the second 
syllable) whereas in my family it has always been Nidadavolu. In this article, I kept the spelling 
Venkatarao had used for his name. 

During his job at the Imperial bank, he was invited to work in a dictionary project, which 
brought his retention skills to light. As the story goes, the Pithapuram Raja Suryarao Bahaddur 
was reading the kumarasabhavam kavya and needed a scholar knowledgeable in Saivite 
literature. Somebody suggested Venkatarao 's name and the Pithapuram Raja sent for him. 
Eventually, that led Venkatarao to become compiler of a dictionary to be named after the Raja as 
suryarayandhra nighantuvu. Their friendship turned out to be a blessing for Venkatarao. 

Speaking of his job at the bank, Venkatarao quipped, "I have moved from numbers to letters 
(literature) where as the people at the universities have shifted from letters to numbers [money]. 
{pariseelana. Venkatarao in his response to the felicitation by Andhra Vijnana Samiti, Tyagaraja 
College, Chennai. 255.). 

In 1939, Venkatarao went to Madras, obtained his master's degree, and returned to Kakinada to 
work as a lecturer in Kakinada College for a year, 1941-42. In the following year, he applied for 
junior lecturer's position at Madras University, and got the job on a recommendation from the 
Pithapuram Raja. In 1947, Venkatarao became senior lecturer and in 1959 and later reader. Later 
he became the head of the Telugu department and retired in 1964. Venkatarao stated that he 
could work for five more years but they made him retire, {pariseelana. 257.). 

While working as bank clerk, he undertook to write an elaborate preface and annotations for the 
hitherto unknown book, tripurantakodaharanam, and published it in 1935. The book won the 
Telugu Bhasha Samiti award. In his preface, Venkatarao had mentioned that he was instrumental 
in reviving the two-hundred year-old udaaharana genre and introducing it to the Telugu people. 


After he moved to Madras, he wrote its complete, udaaharana vanjmayacharitra [History of 
udaaharana literature]. Several reputable scholars like Viswanatha Satyanarayana wrote verses 
in udaaharana style after Venkatarao brought the genre to light. 

From the very little I have understood, the udaaharana poetry is a genre of poetry, written in 
praise of god, using all the seven grammatical cases. Since all verbs in Dravidian languages 
include case markings, it is only appropriate that all the case markings be included in praising the 
lord, Viswanatha Satyanarayana observed. By reviving the two-hundred year-old literary form, 
and discussing the genre elaborately in his book, udaaharana vanjmayam, [Udaharana 
literature], Venkatarao rendered a notable service to Telugu literature in 1954. 

While Venkatarao was junior lecturer in Madras university, during 1944-1949, he undertook to 
write the Telugu kavula charitra [Lives of Telugu poets], dating from the earliest times to 1500 
A.D. In his preface (the author provided the preface in English also in addition to the Telugu 
version), Mr. Venkatarao stated that the social conditions and the lives of the ordinary peoples 
had been recorded distinctively in the Saivite literature but not in the Hindu texts as had been 
hitherto claimed. Possibly, for the same reason, Mr. Venkatarao pursued his scholarly work in 
Saivite literature and produced two more works, which won significant place in the history of 
Telugu literature. His major contribution in this volume is recognizing authors of inscriptions as 
poets. Nistala commented that up until then, the authors of inscriptions were not taken into 
account in the annals of literary history. Venkatarao was the first literary historian to give them 
their due place in the history of Telugu literature (pariseelana. 69) and thus laid path to a new 

Venkatarao contributed to Telugu literature immensely by reviving and reinterpreting and 
providing extensive commentaries on books in Saivaite literature. His major works in this area 
included editing panditaraadhya charitra by Mallikarjuna Panditaradhya, editing and providing 
elaborate annotations and commentary to Basava puranam, and sivatatthava saaram by 
Manchana. The amount of information he had given in each of these classics set new record in 
the field of Telugu literature. 

In his preface to his own work, Southern School of Telugu Literature, Venkatarao stated that 
investigation of this subject was itself new. Venkatarao identified for the first that Telugu 
literature flourished in the 17 th and 18 th centuries under the non-Telugu speaking Nayaka rulers 
in the South states of Tanjore, Madhurai, Pudukkotai, and Salem and also under Maratta rulers. It 
was even more interesting since even the people in these states did not speak Telugu. The rulers 
were obviously fascinated by the sweetness of the language and encouraged poets to write in 
Telugu. Venkatarao wrote his preface in English to this volume probably to facilitate reading at 
least the preface by the non-Telugu speaking readers. Not only literature but language also 
flourished during this period, he added. Some critics had commented on the non-standard usage 
of the language and said those poets were not knowledgeable in grammar (laakshanikulu). 
Venkatarao on the other hand, called it natural development of the language, and commended 
those poets for their originality and usage of the native idiom. He also discusses the relationship 
between other south Indian languages such as Kannada, Malayalam, and Tamil and Telugu, and 
goes to prove that congenial atmosphere between the people in the South during this period. 

Another significant work was his history of Telugu poets, Southern School of Telugu Literature. 
Previously, Manavalli Ramakrishna kavi and Chaganti Seshayya had produced two books on the 
same subject. However, unlike other historians, Venkatarao included several writers other 


historians had not taken note of. Among them, the poets who had composed inscriptions were 
acknowledged as poets for the first time. Additionally, Venkatarao went to great length to find 
all the data for each author — his times, works, different versions of each work, in different 
languages if any, the origins of the text, and the textual variations, etc. 

His work on prose literature, Andhra vacana vanjmayam originated from his lectures on prose 
literature. Sivalenka Sambhuprasad, editor of Bharati monthly, and other friends encouraged 
Venkatarao to develop his lectures as a book. Sambhuprasad promised to publish it under 
Andhra granthamala, (an organ of Bharati) banner. 

In this book, Venkatarao, as was his wont, had covered all the extant literature in the form of 
prose starting from early times to the most recent novels, short stories in the weekly and monthly 
magazines, radio speeches, etc. 

Regarding the short stories in Telugu, Venkatarao wrote: "In Sanskrit literature, stories have a 
special place. Everybody is familiar with the opening line in Maha Bharata, 'that story-teller said 
to such sages as Saunaka.' Pancatantra stories belong to Bharatadesam [India]. ... All these 
stories were originally in Sanskrit. There is one special feature here. In Sanskrit, these texts are 
in the poetic form. There is no equivalent in Sanskrit for the Telugu word vacanam [prose]. They 
all are in the form of slokas. ... thus, the stories in the early days were translations from Sanskrit 
in the form of poetry (e.g. Harsha charitra, pancatantram, kadambari) and viewed as kavya 
literature. In Telugu literature, until the advent of modern period, the short story remained poetic 
in nature," he said. {Andhra vacanavanjmayamu 127-8). 

To give an example of the extent of data he would include, I was surprised to see an explanation 
as to how the word komma [branch] came to mean "woman". He said the word referred to a 
game women used to play in which one woman would attempt to touch other women with a 
branch and others would try to dodge it. Eventually, the word came to be used as equivalent to 

Commenting on modern prose literature, Venkatarao said that women ranked first among writers 
of fiction in modern times. He named Pulugurta Lakshmi Narasamamba as the first woman 
writer of fiction. Her novel, yogiswari, was published in 1927 by Andhra Pracharini 
Granthamala. In this period, Kovvali Lakshmi Narasimha Rao (known as Kovvali) made history 
by producing a record one thousand novels. "I had the honor of writing preface to his one 
thousandth novel," said Venkatarao. 

In his preface to his own book, Pothana, Venkatarao discussed not only Pothana's life and times, 
but also the beauty of the Telugu language, the reasons it had become so popular even among the 
illiterate, and went on to refute the popular myth that the Saivaites hated Lord Vishnu. He 
established with apt illustrations that the Saivaites did not reject the existence of Vishnu but 
portrayed him in their literatures as a devotee of Siva (Pothana. Avatarika, 1-27) 

In explaining the progression in Pothana's life, he said, 

For many, Pothana was a riddle as he [Pothana] followed the Viramaheswara tradition, 
supported devotion to Lord Vishnu [vishnubhakti] and, in the end, achieved non-dualism 
[advaitasiddhi] for himself. 

Venkatarao argued that this confusion was a reflection of the social conditions of his time and 
partly due to its misrepresentation in literature. 


While commenting that Pothana's Bhagavatam was the most popular classic yet among the 
scholars as well as the illiterate, he said that there was not a single Telugu person who would not 
know at least a few poems from Bhagavatam. In support of his observation, he recounted the 
following story: 

In a small village, one day the Bhagavatar [narrator] failed to show up on the stage. Then 
one villager from the audience stood and recited a poem from the Bhagavatam, 
mispronouncing the words, which changed the meaning. 

The original text read, "The Manu was the fourth among the kings [manavaadhiswara]" . 

The text as recited by the villager read, "The man had a tongue that weighed one manugu." 

After that, another villager stood and recited the next line, "Even Kundina king in Vidarbha 
would have a tongue weighing one manugu", apparently, continuing the story from the 
preceding line. 

The correct line would be "in Vidarbha, there was a combatant named Kundina." 

This narrative captured my attention particularly because of the way it was narrated by 
Venkatarao. Despite his reputation for being highly critical of errors, in this narration, 
Venkatarao appeared to be tolerant of mispronunciations and misuse of words [Pothana 
.Preface. 3]. 

Venkatarao's prefaces earned him the reputation that "he lives in the town of prefaces" [mee 
kaapuram peethikaapuram] , commented a contemporary scholar and friend, Ganti 
Suryanarayana Sastry (Nistala. Pariseelana. 242.). His scrupulous attention to detail, his ardor to 
cover the topic from all angles was evident in his prefaces to any book he had written. 

Just to give one example, his book, sivatatthavasaaramu was 104 pages and Venkatarao's 
preface to the book was 91 pages. In his preface, he had discussed the author's time, social 
conditions, the main features of Saivite literature, grammar, and prosody in detail. 

In his preface to Basava puranam by Palkuriki Somanatha and his preface to and meticulous 
editing of panditaraadhya charitra, Venkatarao showed as much his love of Saivite literature as 
his scholarship in editing and writing information-packed commentaries. 

Venkatarao undertook the story of Southern School in Telugu Literature as a research project. In 
his preface, he stated that, "The subject itself is a new field of investigation. The literature, which 

developed in the southern parts where Tamil is the spoken language It is a peculiar 

phenomenon that even the Maratha rulers of Tanjore have patronised [sic] Telugu, which was 
neither their own language nor that of the people who were under his sway." (The original in 
English. Preface, p.l.) 

One of his innovations was to introduce the inscriptions as literature in this volume on Southern 
School. Secondly, he quotes the features peculiar to South Andhra Literature as 1 . Royal poets 
and non-Brahmin poets flourished greatly; 2. Female poets obtained special place in literature; 3. 
dwipada and yakshagaana performances thrived; 4. Prose literature developed systematically; 5. 
Lyrics comprised of music and literary qualities received an impetus; 6. Flaunting of unfettered, 
promiscuous expression in prabhandas; 7. santvana kavya rachana [Appeasing the incensed 


heroine], 8. nayakaabhyudaya rachana [Heroic in praise of kings]; 9. udaaharana and historical 
writings; and, 10. Literatures of scientific disciplines. 

Venkatarao added that not only literature but language also flourished during this period. "Some 
believe that some of these writings included grammatically incorrect words and those writers 
were not laakshinikulu [grammarians]. In reality, the language in these works has presented itself 
as dynamic and capable of normal metamorphosis the same way as in the period of Saivite poets. 
Additionally, the language reflected the subtleties, nuance, and the usage prevalent in those 

Venkatarao's major contributions in Saivaite literature were his exhaustive preface to Basava 
puranam by Palkuriki Somanatha, and his preface and extensive commentaries to Panditaradhya 
charitra. In both the volumes, he discussed at length the Saivaite philosophy, their authorship, 
textual variations, usage of words, and so on. 

Criticisms and comments on works by other contemporary writers 

Venkatarao was passionate about his work as a scholar. In that, he would not hesitate to 
comment on others' work, sometimes, harshly, much to the chagrin of those writers. At times, 
the others did not take the comments too well and retorted in the same tone. 

One of the stories caught my attention was an episode involving Venkatarao's comments on 
samagra Andhra sahityam by Arudra. Personally, I have great regard for both Venkatarao and 

Nistala mentioned that Venkatarao criticized samagra Andhra sahityam [Comprehensive History 
of Telugu Literature] by Arudra, but did not give the exact comment. He however added that, 
"samagra Andhra sahityam has been written in simple language for general readers with average 
knowledge. The author [Arudra] was originally a poet, who later became involved his research. 
Therefore, it is natural for errors to seep in. Venkatarao was a great scholar from the start. ... It 
would have been better if he (Venkatarao) had given constructive criticism and encouraged the 
author [Arudra]." 

Nistala continued to add that Arudra happened to visit Venkatarao at his home, and Venkatarao 
said, addressing him [Arudra] as nayanaa affectionately "I am finicky [maadi chadastam]. We 
say things but young people like you must continue to render service to literature." (pariseelana. 

Nevertheless, there was no mention of Venkatarao and his enormous service to Telugu literature 
in Samagra Andhra Sahityam by Arudra, which is hard to explain. 

Venkatarao was harsh in his criticism of others' works. Dr. Nistala also gave a few other 
examples of Venkatarao's abrasive comments and thereby his alienation from his contemporary 
writers, especially younger generation writers. For instance, Venkatarao, while working on his 
book, dakshinandhra vanjmayam, criticized radhikasvantanam by S. V. Joga Rao and even 
forwarded his comments to the Vice Chancellor. Joga Rao, in retaliation, called Venkatarao's 
Telugu kavula charitra [History of Telugu Poets] as akhanda deepaaraadhana kavulu charitra 
[History of poets like the eternal lamps], referring to a ritual of keeping a lamp lit incessantly. 
Probably, Joga Rao implied the work was ritualistic rather than scholarly. Additionally, he 
questioned Venkatarao's reputation as a scholar and called his work, daskhinadhra sahiyam, 
nothing but a "catalogue scholarship". 


Venkatarao was equally abrasive of scholarly articles as well in his criticism. His comments on 
Korlapati Srirama Murthy provoked Srirama Murthy into remarking that Venkatarao "was not 
qualified to be Head of the Telugu department." 

Probably Viswanatha Satyanarayana put it aptly when he said at a meeting that, "God gave him 
[Venkatarao] infinite scholarship but not pleasurable speech." Sundareswara Rao, Venkatarao's 
son, was quoted as saying that his father, "stayed so converged on literature as his ultimate goal 
that he alienated himself from society with his argumentative language in his criticisms." 
(pariseelana. 47). 

As Nistala pointed out, Venkatarao did not show the same kind of sophistication in his comments 
as writing the original prefaces. His comments were not to be dismissed as biased though. 
Several of his comments had been very useful in revising the texts at the time of reprint, Nistala 

Venkatarao had written thousands of articles, numerous valuable forewords, and delivered 
hundreds of speeches both on the air and in person, according to Dr. Nistala. 

Venkatarao's another contribution was in the field of usage of words known as pray ogam in 
literature, which the scholars in his day were not always receptive to. Venkatarao insisted that 
the usage of words by poets should take precedence over grammar rules since it reflected the 
language of the general population and thus deserved to be credited. This was consistent with the 
vyaavaharika bhashodyamam (Movement to promote colloquial style in writing) and portrayed 
Venkatarao as a traditionalist nonetheless modernist. His contribution to Telugu literature went 
beyond the pale of traditional scholarship and reached out to humanity. Another example of his 
universal outlook was his enthusiasm to work on Christian literature much the same way as on 
Saivite works and other Hindu texts. 

Due to his erudition and nonconforming views, Venkatarao collected an impressive line of titles, 
some conferred ceremoniously and others came through casual conversations. (Nistala. 75-77) 

The Vidyaratna award was conferred on him by Andhra Saraswata Parishat, Narasaraopet (date 
was not given). 

Andhra University conferred the prestigious Kalaprapoorna title on him in 1970. The title was 
created by Dr. C.R. Reddy, Vice Chancellor, in 1927, to honor the scholars who had no formal 
doctoral degrees yet excelled in scholarship acquired through traditional learning. 

In 1976, he became an honorary member on the Sahitya Akademi Advisory Board. 

The title jangama vijnana sarvasvam [Walking Encyclopedia] was a descriptive phrase used 
with reference to his scholarship. It seems the term was used in a speech at a small village called 
Pedapudi, in Tenali taluq, and came to be used as a title in course of time. Notably, the word 
jangama refers to a section among Saivaites and Venkatarao had been an authority on Saivaite 
traditions and literature. 

Another such title fortuitously acquired by Venkatarao was prayoga mushika marjaala, drawing 
on the imagery of a cat pouncing on the mice snuck in a corner. It was not clear who used the 
phrase or when but it was an apt one for him because of his painstaking effort to find usage of 
words in the extant texts. 

Viswanatha Satyanarayana had great respect for Venkatarao. After he had received the 
prestigious Jnanapeeth award, he wrote a book, Andhra dhaatukriya manideepika [Dictionary 


grammatical cases]. In this connection, Viswanatha Satyanarayana told Venkatarao that he had 
searched everywhere but could not find the usage for the word manasainadi [rough translation 
would be 'setting one's heart on something']. Venkatarao said he could show one hundred 
instances of it for him (Viswanatha). Satyanarayana asked him to show them. Venkatarao quoted 
a line, nee chakkadanambu chuuda manasainadi nanda nandanaa [my heart is set on watching 
your beauty], from a book of one hundred verses [satakam], entitled nanda nandana satakamu. 
Satyanarayana was impressed with Venkatarao 's scholarship and in later years used to say that 
Venkatarao was the only qualified person to compile a dictionary. On another occasion, 
Satyanarayana said Venkatarao was parisodhana parameswarulu [The Almighty Siva in 
Research], which came to be used as one of his titles, (pariseelana.15). 

Dr. Nistala observed that Venkatarao 's service to Telugu literature is comparable to the service 
rendered by Sir. CP. Brown. Both were interested in reviving the literature ignored by other 
scholars in their day, both devoted themselves to bracing the Saivite literature, both believed in 
altering the prevalent notion that Saivite literature was not worthy of scholars' attention. Both 
understood that the social conditions and the lives of the ordinary people were reflected best in 
the Saivite literature. According to the two scholars, the Saivaites were staunch believers in 
bringing literature to the ordinary people. Ironically, in some instances, both Venkatarao and 
Brown adhered to the specifics equally. 

Venkatarao was a staunch devotee of Siva and Anjaneya. He started his day with a visit to the 
Anjaneya temple and performed Siva puja every Monday. Possibly, his rigorous religious 
practices gave him the discipline necessary to excel in his scholarly pursuits. Whatever he 
undertook, he completed with unusual zest and flair and with extraordinary success. 

Despite his complex scholarship, life had been a struggle for him financially. After his retirement 
in 1964, he moved to Hyderabad, and was appointed professor at Osmania university, under a 
UGC project created for retired professors. Venkatarao held the position from 1964-1968. 

In 1974, the government of Andhra Pradesh and the Sahitya Akademi granted him one hundred 
rupees per month each. The government of Andhra Pradesh raised their grant to five hundred 
rupees in 1982. 

Referring to his financial conditions, Tirumala Ramachandra, a notable critic and scholar, said to 
Venkatarao once, "had you continued in your job at the Imperial Bank, you would have earned 
three thousand a month." Venkatarao replied, "I know that one of my colleagues at the bank is 
making two thousand five hundred a month now. However, if I had continued in the bank and 
pursued my scholarly activities, I would not have had the same content as I am enjoying now by 
rendering service to literature." 

On October 15, 1982, he passed away at midnight on the Sivaratri day, which is a highly coveted 
form of death in the Saivaite tradition. 

In summary, the enormous contributions of Nidudavolu Venkatarao to Telugu literature in terms 
of rewriting the literary history, acknowledging the hitherto little known or unknown poets, 
compiling dictionaries, reviving the Saivaite classics and reinterpreting them put him in the rank 
and file of eminent scholars. His work in udaaharana literature and acknowledging the 
composers of inscriptions [sasana kavulu] as notable poets is considered remarkable. 


Once again, I would like to acknowledge my gratitude to Dr. Nistala Venkatarao, whose work 
has been of immenset help in writing this article. For complete list of Nidudavolu Venkatarao 's 
works, please refer to Dr. Nistala Venkata Rao's book, nidudavolu venkatarao gari rachanalu: 
pariseelana, pages, 190-225. 

Partial List of the works by Nidudavolu Venkatarao. 

Cinnayasuri jeevitamu: Paravastu Chinnayasuri krutha Hindu dhramasastra sangrahamu 
sahitamugaa, 1962 

Dakshinadeseeyandhra vanjmayamu, The Southern School of Telugu Literature. (With preface 
in English) 1954 

Kopparapu sodarakavula charitra. 1973. 

Nannechodunu kavitaavaibhavamu: Nannechoduni padyaalaku ruchira vyakhyaanamu.. 1976. 
Potana. 1962. 

Telugu kavula charitra. 1956. 
Udaaharana vanjmaya charitra. 1968 

Vijayanagara samsthaanamu: Andhra vanjmaya poshana. 1965. 
Andhra vachana vanjmayamu. 1977. 

Andhra vachana vanjmayamu: pracheena kalamu nundi 1900 A.D. varaku. 1954 
Bhamaakalaapamu, edited by P. Jayamma. 1999 
Prefaces and commentaries. 

Sri Nachana Somanathuni hamsaadibakopakhyanamu (uttara harivamsamu, chaturtha 
aswaasamu. Commentary by Nidudavolu Venkatarao. 1972. 

Editions and revisions by Nidudavolu Venkatarao. 

Sivatatthva saaramu by Mallikarjuna Panditaaraadhyulu. Edited with extensive annotations by 
Nidudavolu Venkatarao, 1968. 

Prabodha chandrodayamu by Nandi Mallaya. Edited by Nidudavolu Venkatarao, 1976. 

Sabdaratnakaram by Bahujanapalli Sitaramacharyulu (1827-1891). Revised by Nidudavolu 
Venkatarao. 1969. 


Sakalanitisaaramu, by Madiki Singana. Edited by Nidudavolu Venkatarao and Ponangi Srirama 
Apparao. 1970. 

Manavalli rachanalu. Edited by Nidudavolu Venkatarao and Ponangi Srirama Apparao. 1972. 

Telugu Kannadamula samskrutika sambandhaalu, by Nidudavolu Venkatarao, et. Al. 1974. 

Telugu, Kannada, Tamila, Malay ala bhashalalo saati samethalu, compiled by Nidudavolu 
Venkatarao, et. al, 1961. 


On Nidudavolu Venkatarao and his works. 

Nistala Venkata Rao. Nidudavolu Venkatarao: Pariseelana. 1984. Available on the internet. This 
book has provided complete list of all the works and speeches in 35 pages and organized 
according to topics. 


A Distinguished Scholar In Folklore And Literature 

In the post-colonial Andhra Pradesh, Dr. Nayani Krishnakumari stands out as an exceptional 
scholar, poet, researcher, speaker, and academic. There are very few women who have attained 
the stature of scholarship as Krishnakumari in modern day Andhra Pradesh. 

Nayani Krishnakumari was born in Guntur in 1930. She is the eldest daughter of Nayani Subba 
Rao, a reputed poet and historian, and mother Hanumayamma. She has four siblings (one brother 
and three sisters. The brother passed away in 1968). 

Krishnakumari did most of her schooling in Narasaraopet except the one year in Srikakulam. In 
Guntur, she finished Intermediate in flying colors. Originally she thought of going into medicine 
but did not pursue though. Instead, she went to Andhra University, Visakhapatnam in pursuit of 
Telugu literature studies. 

The three years, 1948-51, in Visakhapatnam, played a decisive role in her life and literary 
pursuits. There, she met several writers, poets and scholars, and participated actively in many 
literary and cultural events. She was the first woman in Andhra University to act and direct a 
play in 1948, wrote his close friend Antati Narasimham, whom Krishnakumari addresses fondly 
as annayya [older brother]. During that time, Narasimham and a few other students were running 
a hand- written monthly magazine called azad hind. Narasimham saw one of Krishnakumari 's 
early poems, brundagaanam [group song], was impressed by the poem and her handwriting, and 
invited Krishnakumari to be the scribe for the magazine. Her poem, visakha naa neccheli 
[Visakha, my Best Friend], written in 1977, speaks of the special place she holds in her heart for 
the city. 

Krishnakumari married Kanakavalli Madhusudana Rao, a distant relative and polite young man 
and choice bridegroom of both the families. He is a lawyer by profession. They have three 
children — one daughter and two sons. Regarding her marriage, her friend Narasimham has an 
interesting story to tell. Being a vocal advocate of inter-caste marriages, he told Krishnakumari 
to have an inter-caste marriage. Krishnakumari replied that she would not mind but she preferred 
to marry per wishes of her and the young man's family. 

Narasimham has mentioned in the same article that Krishnakumari believes that the caste system 
is vocation-based, despite her education. Regarding he personality, Narasimham writes that she 
is good-natured, respects all-young and old, the famous and the ordinary alike. She has taken 
after her father as much in character as in physical traits. 

Krishnakumari 's father, Nayani Subba Rao, was an esteemed poet and historian, which might 
have contributed to her interest in the cultural and literary history of Telugu people. While she 
was studying BA. (Honors.), she took a course on the History of Andhra Pradesh and she noted 
down the lessons after each class. These notes were published as a series of articles in a popular 
magazine, Andhra Prabha, and later as a book entitled Andhrula hatha [The Andhra People's 
story]. The book was prescribed as a textbook in schools — an attestation of her writing skills. 
She was just 18 years-old at the time. 


Krishnakumari has always been surrounded by caring family members and literary stalwarts of 
her time. Impressed by her poetry written at a very early age, Jnanapeeth awardee, Kavisamrat 
Viswanatha Satyanarayana nurtured her as he would his own daughter. She used to call him as 
pedananna [father's older brother. 

Krishnakumari originally began working on Tikkana's use of language for her Ph.D. dissertation 
but never finished it. Later, with a little nudge from her husband Madhusudana Rao and friend 
Antati Narasimham, she worked on the ballads in folklore and received her Ph.D. in 1970. She 
also has master's degree in Sanskrit. 

In 1951, Krishnakumari started her teaching career as Lecturer in Ethiraja College in Madras. 
The following year, in 1952, she moved to Osmania University Women's College in Hyderabad, 
where she started as Lecturer, became Reader in 1967, and later Professor in 1983. She served as 
Principal of Padmavathi Mahila University, Tirupati, for one year, 1983-84, and returned to 
Osmania University as Head of the Department of Telugu. She retired in 1990 after serving as 
Chair of the Board of Studies in Osmania University for three years. Krishnakumari served as 
Vice Chancellor of Sri Potti Sreeramulu Telugu University, Hyderabad, from 1996 to 1999. 
Currently, she is professor emeritus at Potti Sreeramulu Telugu University. 

Marking her sixtieth birthday and retirement, several scholars and the elite in Andhra Pradesh 
honored Krishnakumari as an esteemed scholar in modern Telugu literature. The festschriften 
volume, vidushi, features several articles from eminent scholars. (It has been a useful source fir 
this article). 

Krishnakumari has participated in numerous conferences, seminars, organized writers' 
conferences and traveled extensively in India and abroad. She has served on reputable literary 
and progressive organizations in various capacities. By 1990, the list of her accomplishments 
extending over a period of 38 years is six -page long according to the festschriften volume. 

Krishnakumari is a recipient of several prestigious awards such as Gruhalakshmi 
Swarnakankanam, Best Woman Writer of Andhra Pradesh Sahitya Akademi, Best Writer from 
Telugu University, and Telugu University Award in the best Literature produced by women. 

Krishnakumari is a pioneer in the fields of Folklore and women's literature. She entered the 
field at a time when even male scholars were scarce in the study of folklore. Only a few names 
such as Biruduraju Ramaraju, Nedunuri Gangadharam and Hari Adiseshu were known at the 

While she was professor, Potti Sreeramulu Telugu University, Krishnakumari prepared the 
syllabus for MA. in folklore. It was later published as telugu janapada vijnanam: samaajam, 
samskruti, sahityam. The book includes several chapters by several scholars in folklore with 
topics for discussion and further research. It could serve as a model or a valuable tool for 
students looking for guidance in the field. 

Under her guidance, a total of twenty students worked for their M.Phil, and Doctoral degrees. 
One of her students, Pulikonda Subbachari, mentioned that, "students consider it a blessing to 
have her as their guide. . . . With her dissertation, the scientific study of Telugu folklore took a 
new turn. The elite agree that she broke the ground and laid the path by shifting the research 
methodology from the descriptive mode to the analytical mode." It would appear that the 
research in folklore has been conducted in three phases: In the first phase, the characteristics of a 
specific aspect of the folklore are identified and defined; In the second phase, scholars accepted 


it as literature only half-heartedly or condescendingly; and, in the third phase, scholars started to 
recognize it as a form of literature that needs to be studied with a different set of rules. 
Krishnakumari laid the path for this third phase. In her own research, she adopted the same 
method she had established as the best for our folklore, which belongs to anthropological school. 

In fieldwork, she welcomes the methodology of the western scholars but does not encourage 
accepting it in its entirety or without questioning. She differs especially in regard to the 
contextual data collection. In collecting and presenting data, Krishnakumari says that the 
scholars must make a distinction between the material needed for native scholars and the western 
scholars. Presumably, there are details that need to be furnished to those who are not familiar 
with our culture. 

Krishnakumari puts greater emphasis on field work as opposed to reading published works, 
"armchair research" as she puts it. In gathering data, advises students to focus on meta- 
folklore — the concepts underlying the words the folks speak. It is important for the researcher to 
ask questions tactfully and draw the causal beliefs and convictions of the subjects. 

Her students speak fondly of her. She is not just a guide who walks them through to their degrees 
but is also a good friend and mentor. 

One of her students, Ravi Premalatha, commented that, "Usually researchers pick one topic from 
several established categories such as collecting data, classification, analysis, comparative 
studies, and construction for their study but Krishnakumari has worked in all these areas and 
proved her multifarious talent." (vidushi. p.25.). 

Premalatha continued to say that Krishnakumari applied the straight line equation from 
mathematics to the storytelling methods in folklore and proved her unparallel talent. This is a 
new experiment in the studies of folklore in Telugu literature and a mark of Krishnakumari' s 
knowledge of mathematics and her erudition in research methodologies. 

Krishnakumari 's articles on Telugu people's customs, lifestyles, and culture also attest to her 
comprehension and knowledge in the areas in question. 

Krishnakumari publications include two anthologies of her poetry Agniputri [Daughter of Fire, 
1978] and Em cheppanu nestaml [What Can I Say, My Friend!, 1988]; history books: Andhrula 
katha [The Story of Andhra People], and telugu bhasha charitra [History of Telugu language], ; 
two collections of short stories: Ayaatha (A Collection of short stories), Gautami (novel), 
manamuu, mana puurvulu [We and Our Ancestors], Aparajita (A collaborative novel with three 
other writers), pariseelana [An Anthology of reviews], parisodhana [A Collection of research 
papers], kashmira deepakalika (A travelogue, recounting her experiences of a tour in Kashmir 
with a group of students), and Telugu Janapada geya gaathalu (Ph.D. dissertation on ballads in 
Telugu folklore) and several others. To date, she has published about 20 books. 

Krishnakumari 's publications do not speak sufficiently of her erudition. And that does not bother 
her. Mr. Narasimham mentioned a brief conversation he had with her regarding the paucity of 
her publications and suggested that she should spend less time on speeches in schools and 
colleges and more on writing and publishing. Krishnakumari replied, "These students spend so 
much time and energy on organizing these events. It is not fair for us to take a 'high and mighty' 
attitude and snub them." 

Her views on poetry are well recorded in her foreword to her book, agniputri. Therein, 
Krishnakumari stated not only her reasons for writing poetry but also for writing her own 


preface. Krishnakumari believes that works by a writer possess insights only the writer can 
explain. As an example, she remembers her own study of Tikkana's usage of language and the 
moments she wished the poet was here to explain. It is not uncommon for a critic to misconstrue 
or misinterpret the original author's message, she adds. 

Krishnakumari believes that it is important that the reader be aware of the author's echelon of the 
psyche, confidence, empathy, and discipline. Readers' awareness of the measures the author uses 
for evaluating the good and the bad, the light and the shadows and the author's perceptions 
through his experiences- they all contribute towards the reader's appreciation of the poetry on 
hand. She speaks from the heart and in no uncertain terms. For her, poetry is a means to express 
oneself, it must be sincere. In her preface, she took a jab at the writers who just in a corner in 
their rooms and write provocatively. She is a person of action. 

Krishnakumari also says she is not writing for fame or fortune. She writes only when she is 
inspired. Speaking of inspiration, mention must be made of two poems, intensely personal. First 
one was written when her mother had fallen seriously ill and Dr. Sridevi, a good of friend of 
Krishnakumari, saved her mother's life. Second was the title of her second book, em cheppanu 
nestam. which was written at the time when the same friend, Sridevi passed away. The two 
poems are even more touching for the fact that one incident brought them together and the 
second tore them apart. Krishnakumari was shaken both times. The two poems eloquently 
describe the heartrending pain she had sustained. 

Krishnakumari is a protester without labels. She welcomes change but not like a militant rebel. 
She believes in the kind of change which penetrates deep into the lives of people unobtrusively. 
She likens the change to a seasoned housewife who defies the world without a bang and takes 
care of her family with inimitable dexterity. 

Krishnakumari wrote only about a dozen or so. Some of them were published as a collection 
entitled ayaiha\X\ The stories reflect her personality and attitude towards family and society. In 
stories like ayatha, kavigari bharya, pushpalata tecchina kakarakaayalu, the author illustrates 
the endearing relationship between a husband and his wife. The stories also identify the finer 
details in the interaction between cousins[2] (children of a brother and sister.). In kavigari 
bharya, the wife addresses husband as nuvvu [informal singular] when she feels close to him and 
meeru [formal, respectful] when she is displeased. 

In literature, her travelogue, kashmira deepakalika, is unique for its style. It is an account of her 
experiences, her response to the beauty of nature in the Kashmir valley, during a tour she had 
undertaken with a group of her students. Chekuri Rama Rao, a reputable critic and scholar, stated 
that the book, unlike usual travelogues, is a literary masterpiece brimming with poetry.[3] (See 
the article on Krishna Kumari's poetry by Vaidehi Sasidhar). 

Krishnakumari traces the history of oral literature in her book, janapada vanjmayam. Some of 
the premises in the book are: 

1 . The oral tradition existed from times immemorial. Rhythm is inherent along with sound in all 
the entities in nature. In course of time, man might have developed the dance technique in an 
attempt to give form to the sound and rhythm. It is hard to establish when the story element was 
woven into the folk art. 

2. There are no definitive answers for questions such as "What did he accomplish by 
incorporating storyline into his singing and dancing. Psychologists profess that man's unfulfilled 


desires manifest themselves as fulfilled dreams in art. For instance, a poor man may write about 
riches, and a feeble person may write stories about courageous heroes. In every art form, we can 
see the elements of lifestyles of the primitive man. Probably this is one of instances of the level 
of sophistication of the primitive man. 

3. In this [folk] literature, music was secondary; the general populace enjoyed the presentation by 
watching the physical gestures, facial expressions, and the skilful rendering. Probably, it was the 
dramatization and musical quality that shaped into an attractive art form. 

4. The masses appreciated this form for their own reasons. But there is a need for scholars to 
study it for a different reason. It is not fair to dismiss this art as free verse, some cock-and-bull 
stories fabricated by simple folks, and they are devoid of linguistic merit. This literature, studied 
in the appropriate manner, will no doubt reveal numerous aspects that could contribute to the 
understanding of anthropology, sociology, ethnography, ethnology, and mythology. 

5. It is also important to evaluate the variance between the folk literature and the traditional 
[elitist] literature. 

6. The characteristics of folk literature are: 1. Unknown authorship; 2. Untraceable timeline; 3. 
Spontaneous evolution from circumstances and out of necessity; 4. Most of it has musical quality 
and lends itself to gestures; 5. It is not correlated to contemporary scholarship and its 
conventions; and, 6. It is disseminated exclusively orally and would accept changes and 
additions freely. 

7. The folk literature can be divided into two groups as [1]1 with and [2] without storyline. From 
a different perspective it can also be classified as melodic or pure text without melody. In all 
these cases, the folk literature includes children's stories usually told by grandmas at home — 
tales of puranas handed down from generation to generation, parables, moral stories, fantasies 
and ballads singing praise of national heroes. Riddles also fall into this category not because 
there is a story but they are interesting for the charming imagination that is spread around in a 
question-answer format. 

8. The melody-based folk literature is classified in several ways such as caste -basted, calling- 
based, or deep-rooted in religion. 

9. The religion of the simple folks seems to have evolved from the values dictated by ancient 
matriarchal society. Various Mother Goddesses in villages were the source of power for people's 
religious beliefs. They were also the springboard for practices like self-immolation, sacrifice, and 
sorcery. So also the women's traditions in which women wielded powers, sacrificed their lives 
and became minor goddesses \perantrandru] . In course of time, the women's songs at weddings 
and other rituals also became important parts of the same oral tradition. 

I quoted the text at length in order to emphasize the work of Krishnakumari in the field of Folk 
Literature. Krishnakumari devoted major part of her literary career to collecting the material and 
studying, organizing the data and publishing them. 

An important work of Krishnakumari is her Ph.D. dissertation Telugu Janapada Geya gaathalu, 
[Telugu ballads]. In this dissertation, published in 1977, Krishnakumari discussed elaborately the 
origin and the development of Telugu ballads in the context of Telugu folk literature. She 
identified the folk literature as a separate and valuable part of our literatures, compared it to 
similar literatures in other cultures and countries, and produced a systematic classification chart 
of ethnology, ethnography and sociology. Further, she has shown how other branches such as 


songs and stories included physical gestures and other theatrical paraphernalia in course of time. 
In this, she also noted that the inclusion of terminology from other languages happened with 
educated singers of the ballads. 

Other chapters include the story elements in the folk songs and ballads, hero-worship, and the 
linguistic aspects. About seventy ballads she had collected across Andhra Pradesh, from 
Visakhapatnam to Nellore and Kurnool, vouch for her hard work, particularly when we 
remember that it was a time when the tape recorders had not come into vogue yet. The glossary 
at the end of the chapter must be valuable for researchers in the field of folklore. 

Krishnakumari believes that the folklore must not be dismissed as the creation of a group of 
primitive people and thus lacks the skills of the elite. She has postulated powerfully that their 
folk songs and performances provide us with insights into the civilization of ancient times, a 
great tool for understanding the evolution of our customs, traditions, and immensely useful in the 
studies of ethnology, ethnography, religion and sociology. 

In her article on the construction of idiom in folklore, Krishnakumari discusses the 
metamorphosis of language in folklore and the logic underlying such metamorphosis. 
Incidentally, she discusses the growth of Telugu language as a result of acquiring words from 
other languages and normalizing into Telugu vocabulary. She adds that Telugu is basically 
descriptive language. Arguably, we may obtain words from other languages because of the 
expansion of knowledge base, yet it is equally viable to coin new words from the available 
vocabulary we have, she insists. For example, aayakaram or varumaanam may be used for 
income tax and aDDu or taakaTTu for mortgage and so on. Krishnakumari insists that we must 
stop promoting the argument that we do not have correct words in our language. Developing a 
comprehensive dictionary of the entire literature of Telugu folklore must be undertaken first, she 
proposes. T41 

In an interview with Vanita monthly, Krishnakumari expressed her opinions on current day 
writing by women. In response to the question that most of today's women writers are being 
criticized as "not reflecting reality, and advocating escapism," Krishnakumari remarked, "That 
criticism is not too far from truth. For women writers, social consciousness is important. 
Whatever issue they choose write about, they should first think well, examine it from a scientific 
perspective, and write the story using their imagination and tell it in a captivating manner. To be 
able to do that, one must have detailed and scrutinizing outlook, real life experience, and creative 
skill. When those are in short supply, every small thing becomes an issue and a theme for the 
story. Many women writers are writing stories, with only numbers in mind, and, without a proper 
understanding of life, without thinking 'what issue is and what is not'. They are writing without 
the logical basis of 'how that issue had taken shape and what solution could be offered'. That is 
what rendering their writings poor and themselves the target for such criticism. Those writings 
only hurt the society, not help. "[5] 

Basically, Krishnakumari believes that the feminists at present are not delving deep into the 
underlying problems of the society. They need to scrutinize the issues and find solutions; there is 
no point in blaming individuals. 

Source List: 

Krishnakumari, Nayani. agniputri. Hyderabad: Author. 1978 
. . . ayaathaa. A Collection of short stories. 


...em cheppanu nestam. Hyderabad: Author. 1988 
. . . pariseelana. Hyderabd: Author, 1977 
... parisodhana. Hyderabad: Andhra Saraswata parishad, 1979. 

— telugu janapada vijnanam: society, culture and literature. Hyderabad: Potti Sreeramulu 
Telugu University, 2000 

Krishnakumari, Nayani. Ed. jaanapada saraswati. Hyderabad: janapada sahitya parishat, 1996. 

Narasimham, Antati. "vinaya vijnana seeli Krishnakumari'". Hyderabad: Nayani Krishnakumari 
Sanmana sanchika. 1990. pp. 12-24. 

Ramaraju, Biruduraju. and Krishnakumari, Nayani. Eds. janapada vanjmaya charitra. 
Vidushi: Nayani Krishnakumari sanmaana sanchika. Ed. Chekuri Rama Rao. Hyderabad. 1990. 

[1] I translated one of her stories, cheemalu [Ants], which is not from either of the anthologies, 
and included in my anthology, A Spectrum of My People, published by Jaico, 2006. 

[2] In Andhra Pradesh, marriage between children of different genders — a brother and a sister — 
is permissible while between children of the same gender (brothers or sisters) is not. 

[3] Rama Rao, Chekuri. u kashmira deepakalika yaatraacaritra kaadu: vachana kavitvaaniki 
rasagulika." vishushi. pp. 55-56. 

[4] janapadabhasha - padanirmaanam. janapada Saraswati. pp. 1-8. 
[5] vidushi. goshti with vanita monthly, p.31. 

(Slightly modified version of this article is published in ) 


Eminent Poet, Scholar And Historian 

Dr. Utukuri Lakshmikantamma, (1917-1996) was a rare combination of several talents from 
reciting poetry extempore in Sanskrit and Telugu to martial arts such as fencing, stick fighting 
and horse riding. 

Lakshmikantamma was born on December 21, 1917, in a sophisticated family of scholars and 
social activists. Her father Nalam Krishna Rao was a reputable poet, journalist, and active 
participant in the social reform movements of his time. He was the founder-president of Gautami 
Granthalayam, one of the oldest and highly acclaimed libraries in the state. Her mother Nalam 
Suseelamma participated in her husband's activities and was the founder of Andhra Mahila 
Gaana sabha [Andhra Music society]. Her aunt, Battula Kamakshamma, was founder of Arya 
Seva Sadanam, which was converted to Andhra Yuvati Sanskruta Kalasala [Sanskrit College for 
Women] later. Against this background, it is no surprise that Lakshmikantamma became actively 
involved in political and social movements at an early age. 

In her childhood, she used to play boys' sports along with her brothers and their friends. At the 
age of seven, she started learning vocal and veena. By twelve, Lakshmikantamma was already an 
exhilarating speaker. She used to deliver electrifying speeches and sing patriotic songs. Crowds 
would hold their breath and listen to her speech or singing. 

She was married at thirteen to Utukuri Hayagriva Gupta, a lawyer and six years senior. They had 
their first child in 1935 but the baby lived only for six months. Of the eleven children the couple 
had, five children — three boys and two girls — grew up to be well educated and well settled in 

At eighteen, she graduated from the Sanskrit College run by her aunt Kamakshamma and 
received the degree, ubhaya bhashaa praveena, an attestation of scholarship in two languages, 
Sanskrit and Telugu. The same year, she was bestowed with two titles, Telugu molaka [Telugu 
sprout] and vidwat kavayitri [Poet of excellence]. Lakshmikantamma, who had been named 
"Sahiti RudramcT [Queen Rudramadevi in literature] by Devulapalli Ramanuja Rao, President of 
Andhra Pradesh Sahitya Akademi, was the proud recipient of ten more titles including 
kalaprapoorna (awarded by Andhra University, 1976), Andhra saraswati, dharma prachaara 
bharati, and sangeeta sahitya kalanidhi, in addition to honorary doctorate. Mention must be 
made of two felicitations, kanakabhishekam [being showered with gold] and gajaarohanam 
[Elephant ride], which are normally associated with royalty of the past and rather unusual in 
modern times. To my knowledge, Lakshmikantamma was the only author to be honored with 
these two felicitations. 

She was actively involved in several literary and social organizations such as Andhra Pradesh 
Sahitya Academi, Telugu Bhasha Samiti, Andhra University Senate, Viswa Hindu Parishat, 
Andhra Pradesh Arya Vysya Sabha, Gautami Granthalayam library in Rajahmundry, Stri 
Hitaishini Mandali [Women's Welfare organization in Bapatla], Andhra Yuvati Sanskrit College, 
Guild of Service, Central Sahitya Academi, and and many more. This list is sufficient to 
emphasize the wide array of her interests and accomplishments. 


Lakshmikantamma possessed a versatile and exhilarating personality. In her autobiography, she 
stated that she would keep laughing always. Pilaka Ganapati Sastry, who became a famous 
novelist later, was her teacher for a brief period. At the time, he was still young and shy. 
Lakshmikantamma was amused while he was teaching Sakuntala, a play, and kept laughing. It 
was disconcerting to Ganapati Sastry. Later, he told her father, Krishna Rao, that, "I used to pick 
from her laughter, the indepth meaning and beauty of poetry in Kalidasa's poetry and bless her in 
my own mind." (Sahiti Rudrama, p. 43). 

Lakshmikantamma' s father was a follower of Brahma samajam, which rejects polytheism and 
promotes one god theory. Her mother Suseelamma believed in Hindu tradition. However she 
changed some of her religious practices to please her husband, she wrote in her article pavitra 
smruthulu [Pious memories] published in Yugapurushudu Veeresalingam published in 
Veeresalingam Satajayanti sanchika, Hyderabad. 

Ever since she was a teen, Lakshmikantamma had been living active public life. She was 
attending public forums, literary meets and conferences and delivering stimulating and scholarly 
speeches. Writing and publishing came much later, early 1950's to be specific. 

The circumstances surrounding her first book, Andhra kavayitrulu are interesting. In 1953, 
Telugu Bhasha Samiti [Telugu Literary Guild], Madras, announced a competition and invited 
writers to write a book on Telugu women poets. Lakshmikantamma's husband, Mr. Gupta, and 
several friends suggested she should write the book. Lakshmikantamma however was not 
interested. She said, "Reputable scholar Veeresalingam compiled the book Telugu kavulu 
[Telugu poets] in which he had included about six hundred writers. In it, he mentioned only five 
or six women poets. If you look carefully, you may find only one hundred poets worth 
mentioning and possibly one of them would be a woman. I do not want to take that one poet and 
hold up to the world, and thereby expose that we have no women poets worth mentioning." 
{sahiti rudrama, p. 81.) Then, one of her close friends, Boddupalli Purushottam suggested that 
she could at least make an effort to see if there were more women poets. Convinced by his 
argument, she set out to search for women poets. She traveled to famous libraries in other places 
like Vetapalem, Madras, and Tanjore, and went through thousands of magazines such as 
gruhalakshmi, Hindusundari and literally unearthed 264 women poets who had produced 
excellent works. Lakshmikantamma's very first book was a first prize winner in a competition 
held by a reputable literary guild, Telugu Bhasha Samiti. 

In the history of Telugu literature, this book Andhra Kavayitrulu is the only comprehensive 
work on women poets to date. This is being used as a valuable reference tool by research 
scholars. Arudra , an established writer and researcher, used it as a source for writing about 
women poets Molla and Mohanangi in his samagra Andhra sahityam. 

The second edition of Andhra kavayitrulu, published in 1980, included only 86 poets. In her 
preface to the second edition, some of the comments made by the author are worth quoting. 
Lakshmikantamma stated that she herself was not sure if she could revive the enthusiasm and the 
style she had evinced while working on the first edition. She was somewhat disappointed by the 
prevalent perceptions regarding education, language and scholarship in the country. In the past, 
scholarship was respected. Now (at the time producing the second edition) the shrinking respect 
for classical poetry in the face of growing interest in fiction is discouraging. Lakshmikantamma 
also mentioned the cost of paper and printing. Personally, I am sad that money should play such 
crucial role in publishing the second edition. The second edition included only 86 poets as 


opposed to more than 200 poets (I have only the second edition on hand for reference). In any 
case, I sincerely hope that Andhra Pradesh Akademi or some other literary organization would 
undertake publication of the full version before it is lost totally. At this writing, the book is out of 
print. And it is too valuable to neglect. 

Having said that, I need to address a couple of other comments on some entries in this work, 
Andhra kavayitrulu. One of them is the authenticity of the claim that Krishnadeva rayalu had a 
daughter named Mohanangi and she authored a book, marichi parinayam. Lakshmikantamma 
devoted six pages to Mohanangi and marichi parinayam in her book. Arudra took this 
information and incorporated in his book, samagra Andhra sahityam [Complete History of 
Andhra Literature]. However, while writing about Mohanangi, Arudra wrote, "They say 
Mohanangi was daughter of Krishnadeva rayalu." By shifting the speaker to an unverifiable 
"they", it would appear, he was not sure if that was authenticated. He did not clearly contradict 
Lakshmikantamma' s statement though. In 2002, I met with two reputable scholars, Dr. Nayani 
Krishnakumari and Dr. Kolavennu Malayavasini. They both stated that there was no verifiable 
evidence to show that Krishnadeva rayalu had a daughter, and that the authorship of marichi 
parinayam had not been established unequivocally. 

A second comment on Lakshmikantamma 's work was by Sangidasu Srinivas. He said that 
Lakshmikantamma had not given full credit to a poet named Kuppambika {Andhra Jyothy 
September 22, 2008 Vividha page). 

My position is scholars usually set parameters for themselves and work within those parameters. 
Lakshmikantamma went to great lengths, researched all the sources available to her at the time 
and recorded the data. Other researchers may find more information or different perceptions in 
course of time. That does not mean that the work done by earlier researcher, whether it is 
Lakshmikantamma or another scholar, is less significant. It is quite normal for latter researchers 
to find more evidence or lack thereof and add further to the existing data. 

Lakshmikantamma' s works fall broadly into four categories. 1. Classical poetry in Telugu and 
Sanskrit; 2. Modern poetry; 3. Prose - Essays, fiction and biography, and, 4. Plays. 

In Sanskrit, she authored kanyaka parameswari sthavam, extempore, in praise of the goddess 
Kanyaka. It is being recited as invocation prayer in the morning in several temples of Kanyaka 
across the state. (Vijnan Kumar. Personal correspondence, dated September 22, 2008). Another 
work of her in Sanskrit is Devi sthava taraavali in praise of goddess Devi. 

In the book, naa Telugu Manchalaa, [My Telugu Manchala], 98 pages, akshmikantamma 
portrays Manchala as a 16-year old, intelligent woman endowed with remarkable beauty and 
sense of patriotism. The story is popularly known in Andhra Pradesh as that of Balachandrudu, 
Manchala 's husband. His mother, Prolama would want her son to go to war and earn her the title 
hero-mother (veeramaata) on one hand and, on the other, her maternal instinct would want him 
to stay home. In a strategic move, she sent him to his wife, Manchala, hoping her beauty would 
prevail and keep him at home. Manchala on the contrary provoked him in a cleverly 
manipulative language, and sent him to the battlefield. The verses are written in simple Telugu 
yet powerful in conveying the various rasas as appropriate in different stages. Lakshmikantamma 
had mentioned in the preface that there might be some stylistic lapses in terms of meter. 

Kanthi sikharaalu is a collection of devotional lyrics, imbibing the tenets of Brahma samajam, 
which she had followed fervently in her teen years. The author stated in her preface that her 


inspiration for writing these lyrics was the singing by well-known romantic poet, Devulapalli 
Krishna Sastry. The language is simple and lucid, which appeal to all, scholars and non-scholars 

Okka chinna divve [A Small Lamp] is a collection of seventeen long poems, presented as a 
tribute to Gandhi. In her preface, she stated that she had the opportunity to participate in 
Gandhi's non-violence movementi in her teen years (about 13 to 19 years of age), which 
contributed immensely in defining her values of patriotism and service. Additionally, she chose 
the title A Small Lamp to accentuate her respect for Gandhi, although not all the lyrics were 
about Gandhi. It included other topics such as a Telugu New Year day, Diwali, soldiers, and an 
invitation to youth. Some of them were written in semi-classical style with complex, descriptive 
phrases, and others in near colloquial style. 

To me, this variation in style seems to point to the shift from classical to free verse that has been 
taking place at the time not only in her writings but in the country in general. 

On a slightly different note, I would like to mention Lakshmikantamma's comments on language 
as stated in her autobiography. She stated that while she was teaching maha bharata in Bapatla 
College, prominent linguistics professor, Bhadriraju Krishnamurthy, attended her classes. 
Impressed by her scholastic excellence, Krishnamurthy invited her to speak at a literary meet in 
Ongole. There she went out of the way from lecturing on Maha Bharata and introduced a new 
argument that Telugu language originated from Dravidian languages. Later Professor 
Krishnamurthy met with her and obtained detailed information about her argument and 
incorporated in his course content for second year MA. (Sahiti Rudrama, p. 92-93). 

The title of the book, kanyakamma nivaali, literally means a tribute to the goddess Kanyaka. 
Inside however, it is a collection of short verses, 3 lines and the caption Oh Kanyakamma. Most 
of the poems are humorous and/or sarcastic comments on contemporary lifestyle and society. A 
few of them are serious observations. The author writes in her preface that she was inspired by 
Koonalamma padaalu written by Arudra. 

Saraswati samraayja vaibhavam, [23 pages], is a one-act play, which incorporated some well- 
known poems from the published works. It presents on one platform nine women poets, who 
lived at different times from 13 to 20 th centuries. Additionally, the author introduces two 
secondary characters partly as comic relief in step with the practice in stage plays. The poets 
recite poems from their best works both in Telugu and Sanskrit. 

Lakshmikantamma's works of history and literary criticism include Andhra kavayitrulu [Andhra 
female poets], Akhila Bharata Kavayitrulu [All India female poets], Andhrula keertana kalaa 
seva [Service of the Andhra people to music], naa videsa paryatana anubhavaalu [My 
Experiences during my tours to other countries], contributions to Vijnana Sarvasvam [articles in 
Telugu Encyclopedia], and numerous articles published in reputable journals. Unpublished 
works as of 1993: Story of Chandramati [Children's book], Sahitya vyasa manjari [Literary 
essays], and Rutambari [prose ballad]. 

She also translated Humayun Kabir's essays in English (Our country's history and the lessons 
learned), and Hindi dohas by Kabir, Tulasi Binda and Rahim. She edited classical works, Molla 
Ramayanam and Vishnu parijata yakshagaanam. She wrote more than one thousand prefaces to 
books by other writers. 


In her autobiography, Lakshmikantamma mentioned that at the beginning of her literary career, 
she published her poems under the pseudonym 'Krishnakumari'. Soon after, her husband 
suggested that she should publish her poetry in her own name since they were so good. She did 
so, although she used yet another pseudonym 'sukanchana' for her story, Korala madhya koti 
swargaalu [Ten million heavens stuck between fangs], included in kathamandaram, an 
anthology of short stories published in 1968. 

I think a brief note on her multifarious involvement in women's organizations, social movements 
and public events, is appropriate here. She was a great speaker, fundraiser, organizer of literary 
meets and associations, active participant in charitable events, and herself a kind and generous 
individual. She was a driving force in women writers' conferences at state and national level, had 
attended international women writers' conferences, and was a sitting member at legislative 
council in two universities and various literary organs at the state and national level. She was 
honored at international women writers meets also. (I had the honor of being on stage with 
Lakshmikantamma at Andhra Women Writers Conferences in 1968 and 1969 and receive 
mementoes from her.). Sri Potti Sreeramulu Telugu University, Hyderabad, produced a 
documentary on her life. University of Toronto, Canada, collected complete works of 
Lakshmikantamma. Her work had been research topic for doctoral dessertation. 

I would like to go on a limb here and comment on her activities in her community. In an age 
when "caste" is considered a bad word, it is pleasing to note Lakshmikantamma 's involvement 
and contribution to Arya Vysya mahasabha [Business community in the scheme of societal 
breakdown based on Hindu beliefs]. She made no apology for being part of her community, and 
showed how the community spirit could be instrumental in bringing people together. This is 
particularly relevant in the context of her growing up with her father, who was a staunch Brahmo 
samaj follower. 

In her autobiography, Lakshmikantamma listed some of her writings as "works unable to 
succeed". I went through the list of books Lakshmikantamma had listed as "not successful". 

I am not sure what made her come to that conclusion. For instance, in the same list, she stated 
that Naa Telugu Manchala had received the Telugu University award and had been prescribed as 
textbook in St. Teresa's college, Eluru. Her Sanskrit poem, kanyakaa parameswari suprabhatam 
is being recited in several temples of Kanyaka as daily morning prayers. That being the case, I 
must assume she was referring to the success as understood in modern times, which would bring 
me to comment on the definition of success. 

In today's world, success is correlated to sales. A parallel example would be a critically 
acclaimed movie failing at box office. Probably it is the same with books. Additionally, in 
Andhra Pradesh, book sales do not always reflect the actual readership. For one thing, buying 
books is not common in Andhra Pradesh, possibly because of our belief in free dissemination of 
knowledge, an idea sustained by oral tradition. Secondly, one book bought by one person is read 
not just by that one person but by other family members and friends also. Thus the number of 
books sold does not always reflect the number of readers for that one book. 

At the risk of repetition, I would like to add a note on Lakshmikantamma' s major works. The 
books, Andhra kavayitrulu, first edition featuring pen portraits of more than 200 female poets 
from 13 th to 20 th centuries, Andhra sahitya vijnana sarvasam, originally compiled by her father, 
Krishna Rao, and which she later edited with annotations by her, Akhila Bharata kavayitrulu [All 


India Women Poets], and sahiti Rudruma (Autobiography) remain landmarks in the history of 
Telugu literature. 

This article is not comprehensive but a modest attempt to provide a brief introduction to the 
accomplishments of a versatile poet of our times. To present a comprehensive analysis of her 
accomplishments is beyond the scope of this article. My hope is to motivate readers to go to the 
original sources and learn more about this remarkable woman and poet. Those who are interested 
in further study of Lakshmikantamma's multifarious personality and work may find the list 
attached as an addendum to her autobiography, Sahiti Rudrama useful. 

Additionally, I believe that publication of Lakshmikantamma's complete works with annotations 
and preserving it for posterity would be a welcome undertaking and service to Telugu literary 
and cultural service. This is particularly vital in the light of dwindling abilities of the current 
generation to appreciate classical, semi-classical and modern literature produced by our 
immediate predecessors. 

Most of Lakshmikantamma's works are available online at http : // www . 

I am thankful to Vijnan Kumar, third son of Lakshmikantamma, for kindly lending me the 
books, which were immensely helpful in writing this article. 

Source List (Works by Dr. Utukuri Lakshmikantamma and published by author) 

Andhra kavayitrulu. 2d ed. 1980. 

Kaanti sikharaalu. 1978. 

Kanyakamma nivaali. 1978. 

Oka chinna divve. 1980 

Naa Telugu Manchala. 1981. 

Sahiti Rudrama. 1993. 

Saraswati saamrayja vaibhavam. 1988. 

Other works: 

Samsmruti (In her memory). Bapatla: Smaraka samiti, 1997. 

Suseelamma, Nalam. Pavitra smruthulu. Yugapurushudu Veeresalingam. Hyderabad: Kandukuri 
Veeresalingam smarakotsvamula sangham. n.d. pp. 93-96. 

(October, 2008) 



An Invincible Force In Telugu Literature 

In Andhra Pradesh, in nineteen fifties, Tenneti Hemalata, better known, as Lata, entered the 
arena of Telugu fiction with her novel, gaali paDagalu, neeTi buDagalu. "I can proudly say I am 
the first sensational Woman Writer of the present age of Telugu literature," she said in a letter 
addressed to me. (Personal letter, 28 August, 1982). 

Hemalata was born on November 15, in Vijayawada, to Nibhanupudi Visalakshi and Narayana 
Rao. In his book, Sahitilata, the author Anjaneya Sarma noted the year of birth as 1932 while 
Kondamudi Sriramachandra Murthy wrote in his article, chalaaniki Arunaaachalaaniki Madhya 
Lata, as 1935, which appeared in other sources as well. Her full given name was Janaki Rama 
Krishnaveni Hemalata. She wrote about herself in Uhaagaanam 56, partly in jest, I suppose. 

At the time God was making me, his hand must have needed rest. After resting for a while, 
probably he looked for clay to complete the form but did not find it and then he grabbed an 
aravinda flower and a bunch of flames available at hand, put them in me and turned the key on 
and let me to go to live the life I had received. But, Oh God, this flame is burning the delicacy of 
the flower, (p. 154). 

Lata's ancestors enjoyed a zamindari lifestyle, and Lata was as raised as a darling child in her 
family. Her father had inherited considerable wealth which he squandered on women, liquor and 
gambling. He also, it would appear, entertained literary gatherings at home. Lata spent most of 
her time with her father at these gatherings sporting liquor and literature. Her father used to offer 
her a sip from his drink occasionally, wrote Anjaneya Sarma. In her later years Lata was 
criticized by purists for her drinking habit, which she defended in her book, antarangachitram 
(1965). She wrote about liquor in her novels, not as a plausible habit, though. More on this 
subject later. 

Her father died at the young age of 32. At the time, her mother was pregnant with her brother. 
Lata stated that, in deference to her father, she supported her little brother's education with her 
income from writing. It is important to note that Lata was one of the few female writers to earn a 
substantial income from their writings in the sixties. 

Lata lived an unusual lifestyle in many ways. She was married to Tenneti Achyutaramayya, at 
the age of 9 and he was 16. Her husband's incurable medical condition, two difficult deliveries, 
(first son in 1956 and the second in 1963, both cesarean) and financial troubles — all seemed to 
have given her rare insights into the perplexities and complexities of life. Against these 
insurmountable odds, it is no surprise that she had learned to take a good hard look at life and the 
meaning of life and develop a sardonic humor. 

In her antarangacitram, [self-reflections], she talked about some of her struggles in life, which 
inspired her to write the stories. The book, antarangachitram itself reads like a meandering 
stream of incoherent thoughts, confusing at times and profound at other, and records the pain she 
had suffered, and the questions she had been provoked to raise about life and god. 


A famous feminist writer, C. Mrunalini, wrote to me in a personal email, that there was lot of 
confusion in Lata. I asked her to elaborate for which I never received a reply. 

In this article, I will try to present my understanding of Lata and her writings against a backdrop 
of the little data available to me, and you may discern your own conclusions. 

Also, please note that I have not read the entire literature produced by Lata. That is beyond the 
scope of this article. I am recording only my impressions of her writings only from what I have 
read and/or known personally. 

Lata studied extensively Telugu, Sanskrit and English classics at home. She started her career as 
an announcer at Vijayawada radio station in 1955 or 56. She took to acting while she was there, 
played notable roles in radio plays and on stage. She was also a singer and a staff writer of radio 
plays. In a letter addressed to me, Lata wrote "I have written 100 novels, 700 radio plays, 100 
short stories, 10 stage dramas, 5 volumes of literary essays (Uhaagaanam), 2 volumes of literary 
criticism (Vishavruksha khandana, and Lata Ramayanam) and one volume of Lata vyasaalu, 25 
charitrakandani chitrakathalu, 25 charitra kandani chitra kathalu, poetry 

This letter was written in 1982. Possibly she had written a few more between 1982 and her death 
in 1997. 

Her awards included: Gruhalakshmi Swarnakankanam in 1963, and an honorary doctorate 
[kalaaprapuurna] by Andhra University. She was honored as "Extraordinary woman" in 1981 by 
the Government of Andhra Pradesh. She was a member of Andhra Pradesh Sahitya Academy for 
over 20 years. She was "the only elected woman member to the academy", She stated in her 

Ghatti Anjaneya Sarma, a mechanical engineer by profession and an avid reader of Lata's 
writings, published a book, Sahitilata , in 1962, wherein he quoted profusely from letters she had 
received from highly reputable male writers and elite like Bucchibabu, Malladi Narasimha 
Sastry, Acanta Janakiram, B. Gopala Reddy and Toleti Kanakaraju. 

Several writers and readers drew parallels between Lata's characters and the characters in works 
by famous western writers like Hemingway, Shaw, Maugham, and C. Scott Fitzgerald. Whether 
one would be willing to accept these comparisons for what they are worth is beside the point. 
The fact remains renowned Telugu writers and critics noticed Lata's talent and accepted her as a 
notable writer. And they wrote personal letters to her. An interesting factor worth mentioning 
here is she started receiving them within a decade since she started writing and publishing, which 
in itself is a tribute to her status as a writer. 

Lata started her career as an announcer at the Vijayawada radio station. Soon after that, she 
started writing plays for the radio. Kondamudi Sriramachandra Murthy mentioned that her first 
radio play was silaahrudayam [stone heart] broadcast on Deccan Radio in 1952. Ghatti 
Anjaneya sarma stated that Lata's first radio play was mahabhinishkramanam, [The Great 
Exodus], but did not give the date of broadcast. Regardless, the fact remains that Lata launched 
her literary career at a radio station. 

By early nineteen thirties, Telugu fiction was gaining ground as a literary genre. The new 
emerging story technique incorporated some elements of the earlier writing style; the stories 
were suffused with vestiges of Sanskrit poetic diction as well as the western story-writing 
technique. The Romantic poetry of the British writers like Robert Browning, Elizabeth 
Browning, Byron and Keats influenced Telugu fiction writers in the forties and fifties. And Lata, 


like several other writers had read several books in English and was influenced by them. We see 
the effects of Lata' s avid reading in her writings. 

Among other things, she also tried to write detective fiction, without success though. She 
admired Arudra and Kommuri Sambasiva Rao. She particularly wanted to write like Arudra. In 
her own words, her detective stories turned out more like propaganda material — the thief turned 
into a man of distinction and the detective into a thief by the time she finished it, as she put it 

Lata also tried to paint which again was not a success story. She realized fairly early that she had 
no talent for the brush. It is notable that later she compared writing to painting, and writer to a 
painter. She drew a clear distinction between photography and painting. In photography, you 
click the camera and it captures the scene as is. On the other hand, in painting, the artist adds 
with each stroke of his brush, a new meaning and a new perspective gradually. 

Lata's language is quixotic, awash with imagery and earthy at the same time, with heavy slang 
at times. It filled with metaphors, sensuous imagery, and even luxurious poetic verbosity at 
times. She was an admirer of famous singer and song-writer, Mangalampalli Balamurali Krishna. 
She herself wrote a few lyrics, for which Balamurali Krishna composed tunes. We find this 
musical quality in such books as antarangachitram and mohanavamsi, wherein separating the 
author from the work is impossible. 

On another occasion, Lata lying on a hospital bed, while waiting for her second son to be born, 
she describes her thoughts as follows: 

In this scanty life of mine, I have been through numerous experiences — hardships, tears, 
suffering, happiness, love, and duty; temptation and desire. While grappling with my life and 
financial problems — amidst all this — I would still travel in first class in airplanes, watching the 
beauty beyond description and ugliness beyond words — how many times I've seen it in this life? 
My life is small yet it is puffing up with my experiences, lightening and floating in the air like a 
balloon. Probably it will burst today.(ARC. p. 13) 

Her knack for imagery is amazing. Whether it is her sparkling enthusiasm for life or antipathy 
for the injustices in the society, it is always entrenched in a combination of sarcasm, sharp wit 
and uncanny humor. 

Some of her convictions are a mix of tradition and innovation. Lata possesses a peculiar sense of 
the anomalies in life, which go beyond the bounds set by any single conviction. In some ways, 
she would fall right into the category of Telugu romantic/idealistic writers like Tallavajjhala 
Sivasankara Sastry, Devulapalli Krishnasastry, and Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry, to name but 
few. And in other instances, she is confrontational like Chalam and Ranganayakamma. 

I believe that the anguish Lata had experienced in her personal life set her apart from many 
writers of her time. Her experiences or anguish defined her perception of life and her technique 
of storytelling. While other writers used the flowery language to describe their idealistic dreams, 
Lata used it to drive home the ruthless realities of life. 

Lata believed in mystical somewhat platonic love. That is what we see in Mohanavamsi. She 
claimed that she was speaking in abstract terms in mohanavamsi; she was not Radha but the 
concept of Radha [p. 106]. She further explains, "My Krishna is a human being. ... My Krishna 
should not be an egotist . . . People may label me immoral, still I would have gone with him, 
defying all the familial ties. ... I have made plenty of mistakes. Maybe I would stay away from 


these mistakes if my Krishna were human. ... But my Krishna is anantanaariihrudayavarthi 
[One who wanders in the hearts of innumerable women]. ... Extremely selfish... Am I jealous? 
No.. I am worried only about the selfishness incorporated with pain. ... How can he be god if he 
knew only to take but not give? ... He is good to be worshipped only without asking for returns. 
... Maybe I am worshipping him all the same. .. The same thing happened for a second time. It 
was the fault of the circumstances. The same circumstances would call my love prostitution. ... 
That is why I turned around and came home. ..But I set fire in that person's heart before I 
returned, [antharangachitram. p. 106]. 

Her usage of diction and metaphors are elusive even when she is speaking in a book supposedly 
nonfiction about herself. She barely draws a distinction between her fiction and her reality. 

An episode described in her antaranga chitram, describes this ambiance in her perceptions. She 
wrote that a local businessman approached her for sex in a rather forthright and primitive 
fashion. At first, she was surprised; she teased him for a few minutes as was her wont, and then 
sent him away. She took the situation to make a categorical statement about the life on 
Vijayawada streets (which apparently was the reason for the man to approach her in that 

In this Vijayawada city, this kind of requests and mediations is quite common. There is no 
evidence of any woman rejecting any man either. Underneath this scenario, money is dancing 
garishly. ... In fact, that is the way the topography of Vijayawada — surrounded by the river and 
hills, and streams — they all make it a unique city in the entire state of Andhra Pradesh. I don't 
think there is another city like this in the entire state. ... And the people of Vijayawada are 
matchless in making the shorelines of these streams unbearably ugly. 

The roads are always crowded. Most of the pillars of society in our town have amassed wealth by 
running brothel houses only 

The second problem in our city is the lorries. There are plenty of lorry drivers who stop them 
anywhere they please, crawl under the vehicles and fall asleep. ... It is not an exaggeration to say 
that our roads are laid only for the purpose of those lorries and lorry drivers; they stop their 
lorries everywhere for repairs, and for others to die freely under those vehicles. . . . 

On top of all this, there are brothel houses... in each corner of every street ... They are referred 
to as "companies" respectfully. All these companies are invariably owned by women with rowdy 
protectors by their side. . . . 

I quoted this passage to highlight the fact that this account in her nonfiction book is a replica of 
her description of the Vijayawada streets in her novel, gaalipadagalu, neetibudagalu. This may 
be a simplistic example but I believe that it does point to the authenticity in her novels. She used 
the same setting and the situations as she perceived them in the life around her. She seemed to 
have put her heart and soul into her writings whether it is fiction or nonfiction. 

Acanta Janakiram was one of her harshest critics to disapprove her style. Referring to his 
disapproval, Lata wrote, "He [Janakiram] was annoyed by my abrasive and candid language. But 
what I've written is the truth. He told me several times not to write like that. Probably he was 
repulsed by my gaalipadagalu, neetibudagalu [Kites and Water Bubbles]. I do not think he has 
forgiven me for that even after I had published Mohanavamsi and Umar Khayyam. I heard that 
his nonfiction books, naa smrutipathamlo [Down the Path of Memories] and saaguthunna yatra 


[Journey in Progress] contain more poetry than actuality. In my opinion, Authenticity is more 
beautiful than poetry. "(antharangachitram. 147). 

Lata claimed that, contrary to the public opinion, she was not writing about sex and there was no 
discussion of sex in her books except gaalipadagalu, neetibudagalu. She added that, "Even in 
that book, it was meant to cause disgust in the readers but not fondness. Whatever it is, there is 
plenty of falsehood in his [Janakiram's] theory of beauty. And I resent falsehood." 
(antharangachitram 147) 

Contrary to her statement however, Lata did write another novel, raktapankam [Quagmire of 
Blood], on the same subject as gaalipadagalu, neetibudagalu. The second book is a longer 
version of the same story. The difference lies only in the event that instigated her to write. The 
basis for gaalipadagalu, neetibudagalu was her observation of the brothel houses round the 
corner from her home in Vijayawada. For the second novel, raktapankam, the basis was a stack 
of letters sent to her by a woman who actually lived the horrific life and requested Lata to write 
the story. The woman's friend who brought the letters to Lata told her [Lata] that the friend (the 
main character in the story) was moved by Lata's earlier nowe\,_gaalipadagalu, neetibudagalu 
[Kites and Water Bubbles, 1953], wanted to meet the author personally but could not. For that 
reason, the woman wrote her story in the form of letters addressed to Lata. And Lata decided to 
write this novel, defying the angry reprimands of several writers and critics. In the preface to the 
book, Lata said she had written as it was told in the letters, and changed very little. 

Several critics compared her to Chalam for writing these novels. From my perspective, the 
comparison is not tenable. While the writers dealt with sex in their novels, their approach and 
their perceptions are distinctly different. Chalam' s views were rooted in his ideology and in that 
sense his novels were mono-directional. His characters are two dimensional. Readers will know 
nothing about the characters beyond their engagement in sex. In Lata's novels, on the other hand, 
sex is only part of bigger picture. Her characters are alive; they eat, talk to each other, have 
children, and worry about other things in their daily lives. Her stories tell us stories we all know, 
and raise questions we are confronted with on a daily basis. Her stories are closer to the life her 
readers could relate to. A word of caution. Chalam's novels may not be out of this world but they 
are monolithic at best. 

About the same time as the two novels mentioned above were published, Lata also started 
writing a series of feature articles in Andhra Prabha weekly, under the running title, 
Uhaagaanam [musings] from 1958 to 1963. Its success was unbelievable. Lata became a 
household name and the readership for the weekly magazine escalated greatly. In a way, it could 
be her salvation for writing gaalipadagalu, neetibudagalu. Earlier, I mentioned about the 
umpteen letters she had received from prominent writers and readers. I believe that Uhaagaanam 
convinced them that she was a gifted writer. 

The volume I used for this article is a single volume containing 197 articles in 600 pages, and 
published in 1978. The publishers stated at the beginning that the book covered umpteen topics 
such as the poetry and the style of Rabindranath Tagore, Shakespeare's tragedies, Tolstoy's 
humanism, Maupassant's love scheme, Krishnasastry's heartening lyrics, social philosophy of 
Chalam, maro prapancam [Another World] of Sri Sri, and several others. Her selection included 
Telugu, Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, English, translations of Russian and Persian writers and Vedic 
texts. She also drew on her experience in the movie industry and contacts she had developed as 
a writer and actress (I think she acted only in one or two movies). (See her comments on acting 


noted earlier). The publishers also added that this book included all the issues of the entire world 
abundantly, and potent questions like: What does "society" mean? In what way the society is 
related to you? 

Each article runs from two to five pages. Basically, the format is: Take a quote from a well- 
known book or a popular axiom, explain, comment, and describe one or two occurrences from 
everyday life we all are familiar with, and finish it with a brief recap. 

In these articles, Lata comes out as humorous, caustic, sarcastic, ponderous and rambling 
incoherently at times. They captured a wide range of readership for that very assortment of 
topics. I, for one, was fascinated by all those quotes from the great books I'd never heard of, the 
wisdom they contained and the manner in which she illuminated a view or a thought. For me, it 
was the second best thing for not being able to read the originals. 

In this weekly feature, she proved her abilities to put two seemingly incoherent situations in 
juxtaposition and hold them up for the readers to see the underlying commonality. In the process, 
she could be impulsive, pondering, confounding, ridiculous, and sarcastic all in one breath. 

For instance, in Uhaagaanam 129, Lata opens with a popular poem from the great epic, Maha 
Bhagavatam [The Story of Krishna] and goes on with her mystifying questions about God. Then 
she shifts the somberness to levity as she describes an event from everyday life. 

It is about a husband trying to learn to cook while his wife was out of town. He turns the radio on 
for instructions and the next few lines are just hilarious. He is unaware that the radio is broken 
and it is broadcasting two stations simultaneously. The result is, 

1. Add water to the dal. After it is cooked, ... put your hands on your waist and take two feet 

-He did so per instructions. 

2. Put a pan on the stove, add oil, ... stand on one foot, look sideways playfully. 
-He did that too. 

3. Walk three feet poised, lean forward, smile... drop little lumps of dough in the hot oil. 
-He followed the instructions. 

4. Hop back three times . . . 

As may be expected, the outcome is a disaster and he writes to the radio station that the 
instructions were messed up. 

My [Lata's] point is, our lives and the universe are comparable to the two broadcasts. That is 
why I want to tell god that, "Look Mister, your management is hopeless. Why don't you stop 
creating for a while. Then we all can have peace for some time." 

But He is not listening and letting the Judgment Day happen. He hides in a corner, and keeps 
broadcasting two shows simultaneously and tells us to live the best we can. What has he got to 

The Uhaagaanam articles featured her humor on one level. At another level, she also was 
capable of initiating challenging dialogues among the elite on topics such as god, traditional 
values, and religion. 


On one occasion, she received a letter from an avowed nonbeliever, Tarakam, in which he stated 
that Lata's convictions about god in one of her Uhaagaanam articles was out of character for 
her. Lata responded saying that they both (Tarakam and Lata) were on the same page since their 
objective was the same except for the terminology. "You are calling it Truth and I am calling it 
God," she said. Then, another prominent writer, Bucchibabu, wrote to Lata further elaborating on 
various conjectures of the same subject. 

The fact that Lata was able to involve the elite of her times in a dialogue on critical matters 
speaks for her strength as a writer. 

Her novel pathaviheena.(\91\l) is about the disparity between woman's chastity [pativratyam] 
and humanism. In the novel she discusses her views on pativratyam [wife's unflinching devotion 
to her husband] and claims that, unlike in other countries, pativratyam is overrated in India. She 
said she had received 7000 letters during the time the novel was being serialized in Andhra 
Prabha weekly. 

In the same preface, she talked about another famous writer, [late] P. Sridevi (of kalaateeta 
vyaktulu fame) and added that Sridevi died because of a mistake she had made. The next 
comment of Lata is noteworthy. She said, "many people expected me to make the same mistake. 
But I am a devotee of beauty. . . . That is not the reason I did not make the same mistake. I also 
have soul. ... I have not sacrificed my soul ... I have desires . . . and part of it is mischievous like 
everybody else's ... I am a writer but that does not mean I am not a woman." [ARC p. 105]. 
This passage seems to indicate that Lata had her share of heartbreaks in real life. Secondly, I am 
not sure if her comment on Sridevi is tenable but then probably it is irrelevant here. 

In her preface to this book, antharangacitram, Lata said she spoke only good things about her 
friends and left out bad things on purpose. Should we give her credit for being discrete? What 
does it say about her character? And about her sense of propriety and by default her wits? Why 
did she mention Sridevi at all? 

This style of speaking in conundrums is rare in her novels. Beating around the bush is not her 
style. She was not afraid to take on any writer, male or female. 

One notorious episode involving two other prominent writers was about their versions of the 
great epic Ramayanam. For the purpose of clarification, I will recount the story briefly. A 
jnanapith awardee, Viswanatha Satyanarayana, wrote the epic under the title Ramayana 
kalpavruksham [Ramayana, the celestial tree]. Then, Ranganayakamma, a reputable Marxist 
writer, wrote the same epic, entitled Ramayana Vishavruksham [Ramayana, the poisonous tree] 
in a confrontational move. Then, Lata wrote another book, Ramayana Vishavruksha Khandana, 
[Rebuttal of Ramayana Vishavruksham] challenging Ranganayakamma 's version. The three 
books created a huge commotion in Andhra Pradesh in the eighties polarizing readers, male and 
female, around each of these writers. Further discussion of this event is beyond the scope of this 
article but would suffice to say that Lata never hesitated to jump into the fray if occasion called 
for it. 

Lata held strong views about acting and actresses. "I am not used to sugarcoat even in acting," 
she commented. She said she had to struggle a little when she had to play the wife of another 
man in a radio play but managed to go through with it. She refused firmly when she had to cry 
for her (stage)son. "I cannot cry, even in the name of acting, for a child while I have a son in real 
life." She would not tolerate doubletalk in the name of art either. 


She later had come to realize that "the obstacles for actors and actresses to act are only their own 
sentiments but not their family life." (ARC p. 30-31). Woman remembers her duty to the society 
and family only after her profession as actress. On the other hand, she who aches for fame and to 
show off her well-formed figure while grappling with her own insecurities may shroud with 
morals like sugarcoated pills but can never be an actor, (antharangachitram. 31). "Actors and 
actresses who cannot pronounce aspirated sounds come to participate. No matter how many 
times Banda garu told them the phrase was avinaabhaavasambandham, [inseparable connection] 
they still say avi naa baava sambandam [that is my relationship with my cousin], ... [We 
announcers] will have to put up with unbearable sounds in the name of classical music," she 
commented, {antharangachitram 79). 

Regarding the relationship between the writer and the writing also, Lata held unambiguous 
views. She said, 

"Usually a novelist will be guided not only by the society in which he is living but also by his 
own insights and conscience [antharyam]. Yet, his experiences, memories and the conclusions 
drawn from his experiences — all come together and create a common ground of acumen for him 
and the readers. It will act as telepathy or a telephone wire. That telepathy is the connection 
between a first rate writer and a well-informed reader. 

Additionally. An artist's imagination may change the proportions and the form of the incident he 
had seen, rework on the connotation and the display. ... All novels and musings depend on 
reality to some extent 

I will not accept that a great writer would write for entertainment or fame. He also would aim at 
making the life and his goal as well broader in perspective. There is nothing wrong if he uses his 
book as a moral sword in his attempt to achieve his goal. ... I believe that there is no writing, 
never will be one, which is free of the author's agitation. ... A writer without talent is worse than 
ordinary person. Nowadays the ordinary person is turning into a writer, which is one more 

Once a friend showed two pictures of elephants to a great artist. Both the elephants were the 
pictures of angry elephants. The artist said, "this is great art since the sculptor carved it with not 
only the trunk but also the tusk raised. The second one as ordinary and so there is nothing 
peculiar about it. There is no display of one's perception. ... If some half-wit calls it [the first] as 
lacking in realism, that is his problem [antharangachitram. 93-94]. 

Look at any Telugu novel that is not successful, you would notice only a series of aspirations, 
love, a couple's movie dialogue, an overbearing gentleman, struggles in a rental property like in 
a display of dolls . . . Life might be like a novel but a novel is never like a grocery store. [98] 

She categorically disapproved the pretensions of women who would blame their family life for 
their failures on stage. She said only second rate women actors live under the delusion that acting 
was immoral, while in fact the problem was their own lack of talent. 

Lata covered a wide range of topics in her novels — harmony at individual or social level, 
underlying principles of caste, marriage, traditions in other parts of India, beliefs such as ghosts 
and predictions based on horoscopes, and so on. Here is then the main question: Can we find a 
common philosophy of Lata from these novels? 

Her themes ranged from to streetwalkers, to ghosts, to imaginary coup by gods, to philosophical 
or theological debate. Lata explained in her prefaces the incidents that lead to her writing the 


novels. Each novel was inspired by either her own observation, a book by a famous writer or a 
brief conversation with another writer of repute. For instance, the much needed changes in 
society in tiragabadina devatalu,[Gods that rebelled] was based faintly on Time Machine of H. 
G. Wells, whose characters defy time, distance, and dimensions of life. Brahmana pilla [A 
Brahmin girl] is about reverse discrimination. She stated that she was not advocating restoration 
of brahmin superiority but highlighting the negative impact of the eradication of caste system on 
poor brahmins who needed help. Niharika is about the institution of marriage; she questions the 
acceptance of man having two wives but not woman having two wives in our society.. 

At the risk of digressing for a moment, I would like to comment on writers in general. Often the 
writers who write to advocate their ideological perceptions, are deeply rooted in their ideology. 
(Like Chalam, for instance). All their writings point solely to that one view. And then there are 
writers like Lata who take each topic and stay focused on that topic, attempting to present several 
angles of that one topic, offer a more balanced view of the topic and pose potent questions for 
readers to think. Chalam appealed to the elite and maybe readers fascinated by his portrayal of 
women's sexuality. Lata reached out a much wider audience with her technique (which included 
humor, sarcasm and plain talk) as well as her points of view. 

Some of topics she dealt with in her novels are: 

Closer to home: Jeevanasravanti._ Her father's financial problems, his use of morphine and his 
lifestyle were the basis for this novel, she stated in her Antarangachitram (p. 34). Mohanavamsi: 
Her personal journey. 

Stories inspired by her readings and per perception of cultural values: Bhagavantudi_pancaayati 
[God's court] was inspired by a novel by Somerset Maugham. She said she took some of the 
characters Maugham had created. She understood only after reading Maugham, that the human 
nature is not the same as usual at the time of war. Wherever and whenever war happens, the 
result is always the same — bloodshed and death. 

In this novel, she depicted the Tibetan traditions, and environment at the Himalaya mountains. 
She also apologized for any topographical errors she might have made in regard to the area. 

Dayyaalujevu? - "In general, I don't believe in ghosts. Premchand wrote in his novel, Nora, that 
he believed in the theory of rebirth. Tagore expressed his belief in ghosts in his Hungry stones. 

Chellapilla Venkatasastry wrote that he believed in the grahas and had personally suffered from 
their displeasure. . . . The reason I am saying all this is, we may assume to be real what we are 
calling baseless fantasies and unreal. We have gotten used to think that the things we don't know 
don't exist." (preface ) 

On Religion and philosophy 

Edi Nityam [What is Eternal]? Tried to establish that humaneness is more important that 
religion. It was about a woman writer, Radhamma, who was labeled a "prostitute" regardless she 
lived righteously. "In reality, I am partial to men; I support women. In this novel, Rajamma's life 
is heartbreaking." This is a confusing statement. Is the word "men" in the first part a typo? She 
did mention about the typographical errors in her books. She quoted her husband saying that she 
became famous only because of the typos in her books. 

Saptaswaraalu [The Seven Musical Notes] "Once I heard a story that supposed to have happened 
in a sanitarium in Mangalagiri. Some of the characters in the story resembled the characters in a 


story, "Sanitarium" by Maugham. Similarly, some of the incidents in Shaw's Man and 
Superman. ... 

Prominent composer-singer, Balamurali Krishna often mentions that the seven notes are the 
foundation for one's spine, lyrical composition and the harmony in life. I have come to 
understand that life also reorganizes the notes and sometime strikes a discord and life is a stream 
of dissonance and harmony. A novelist has no choice but surrender to his own creation: he needs 
to forget his own existence and become the character in the course of creating each creator. The 
characters he created turn him into a puppet in their hands. In that play, he will need the help of 
the seven musical notes. We can't say whether dance of destruction or eternal bliss is but it 
continues to agitate him to the end. This saptaswaraalu reflects that agitation of mine. 

About Tulasivanam, Lata said prominent writer Gopichand and she were sipping coffee at a 
local coffee shop and listened to the story from a woman. Gopichand asked if Lata were 
interested in writing the story and Lata said he should write it. Eventually, Gopichand died 
without ever writing the story. Lata's story explores the belief that tulasivanam is present 
wherever a woman is present. She takes her cue from a mythological character, Tulasi, wife of 
Jalandhara, who was a cruel demon king. Gods tried to kill him but to no avail. He was shielded 
by Tulasi's pativratyam and invincible. The only way he could be killed was to seduce Tulasi. 
Therefore, Vishnu, pretending to be her husband, deprived her of her moral code [pativratyam]. 
Later Vishnu granted her a boon; and she became a plant to be worshipped by women seeking 
exemplary life eternally. 

Now the question , it is true that money matters but is it justifiable to grow marijuana in a tulasi 
patch? Marijuana sedates the senses, numbs the conscience. It may provide a temporary solace 
but no healthy remedy. Tulasi on the other hand has medicinal value, it is wholesome." 

Her experimental writing: Love stories 

By her own admission, she wrote some sort of love stories like vaitariniteeram in the beginning. 
Later she divested herself of the western influence. But she wrote Vaitariniteeram in response to 
a suggestion from younger generation readers, who had gotten used to reading the novels by 
other female writers, who were lifting stories from Herald Robbins, Barbara Cartland and Mills 
and Boon (Lata noted it as 'Bouquet' but I believe Boon is the correct word.). It was serialized in 
sowmya monthly. 

Lata said her characters lead her to the conclusion; they appear in her dreams and tell their 
stories. In the case of niharika [Mirage] it took a couple of months before the main character, 
Saradadevi told her the complete story. Within those two months, lying on bed in a nursing 
home, she had finished two more novels, bhagavantudi panchayati and Omar Khayam. 

All the five novels carry the publication date of 1963. To me, writing five novels with a so wide 
range of themes is remarkable. Then the question is: In doing so, did she succeed in becoming an 
esteemed writer? I have no statistical data, but in view of her renown, I'd say yes, she remains an 
important writer of our times. 

In a final note, I would like to quote Lata's comments on contemporary female writers, that, 
"Many female writers are afraid that they'll be forgotten if they don't keep publishing but I don't 
have any such fears," she said. 

I would like to quote a well-informed writer, J. K. Mohana Rao, who wrote, on hearing of Lata's 
death, "I am saddened to hear the demise of Tenneti HemaLATA. ... I was introduced to Lata 


through Andhra Prabha. She used to contribute a column called UhaagaanaM. It used to be 
down-to-earth and yet poetic. ... I can call her a mix of Bucchi Babu and Chalam. She fought for 
one half of the oppressed in society, viz., the women.... She always used to write with a certain 
enchantment and elan that is not easy to surpass or imitate. Lata reminds me of my youth, my 
return to Telugu literature (particularly novels) after a break, and my rethinking about women, 
relationships and a sense of poetry in many activities of our daily lives." 

I can't think of a better tribute to a writer who took the world by the horns in the early nineteen 

Source list: 

Anjaneya Sarma, Ghatti. Sahitilata. Vijayawada: Sri Vani Prachuranaalayam. 1962. 

Hemalata, Tenneti. antarangacitram. Vijayawada: Vamsi Prachuranalu, 1965. 

Sriramachandra Murthy, Kondamudi. "Chalaaniki Arunaachalaaniki madhya Lata." Andhrajyoti 
Sahitya vedika. Sunday supplement. May 24, 1981. 

Prefaces of the novels mentioned in the article. 

Hemalata, Tenneti. Personal correspondence dated August 28, 1982. 


A Relentless Researcher And People's Poet 

Bhagavatula Sankara Sastry, best known as Arudra, devoted his life to write for the ordinary 
people without compromising his integrity. He proved successfully that poetry in classical meter 
could be written in colloquial Telugu and produce valuable literature. He did not believe in 
academic degrees. He researched incessantly and brought valuable information on a wide variety 
of topics to the public. 

Arudra [Bhagavatula Sadasiva Sankara Sastry] was born in Visakhapatnam in 1925. He moved 
to Vizianagaram in 1941 for college studies. During this period, he met with literary stalwarts 
Chaganti Somayajulu and Ronanki Appalaswamy who became powerful forces in molding his 
literary pursuits and helped to define his literary values in the years to come. 

Early in life, Arudra became involved in the political movements. He left college and joined the 
Air Force in 1943. He moved to Madras in 1947, where he served on the editorial board of a 
popular magazine Anandavani for two years. Then returned to Visakhapatnam where he was a 
photographer for a short period. In 1949, he returned to Madras. He always believed that 
journalism had "adventure value." He tried for a job in journalism and ended with script and 
lyric writing in the movies. 

Arudra did not care for academic degrees but his incessant thirst for knowledge and acquiring it 
in the traditional method was notable. When he wanted to learn the fundamentals of Telugu 
grammar, he went to the highly reputable grammarian, Ravuri Doraiswamy Sarma. Interestingly, 
at the end of three years, however, Arudra changed Doraiswamy Sarma' s perceptions of the 
importance of colloquial Telugu. He proved to be a rare student who could convert the teacher 
and a staunch classicist into an advocate of colloquial language. 

Arudra pursued his interest in literature and fine arts on his own and with unusual fervor. He 
studied not only classics in Telugu literature but also in other languages, and other fields such as 
dance, music, magic and palmistry. Top ranking artists in music and dance would consult Arudra 
for interpretation and explanations. He was well versed in the games of chess and bridge. Sri 
Venkateswara University, Tirupati, conferred an honorary doctorate of letters on Arudra in 1978. 
Andhra University honored him with Kalaprapoorna title. Arudra's works had been subjects for 
several doctoral dissertations and M. Lit. Degrees. His sixtieth birthday was celebrated on a 
grand scale in Chennai in 1985. Marking his seventieth birthday, East and West Godavari 
districts organized huge literary meets. He was truly a people's poet in every sense of the term. 

Arudra met Ramalakshmi, a well-known writer and critic, while she was working at the Telugu 
swatantra office as editor of the English section of the magazine. They got married in 1954. They 
have three daughters and one adopted daughter. 

Arudra's first poem, lohavihangaalu [Metal Eagles] written in 1942 caught the eye of the elitists. 
During the Second World War, the Japanese airplanes dropped bombs on the Visakhapatnam 
harbor and people dispersed in panic. Arudra wrote the poem depicting the horrific scene. 

Arudra strongly believed in two principles: First, literature must be able to stimulate people, and 
secondly, it must be written in a language that is intelligible to all the readers, the elite and the 


ordinary readers. In a personal letter written to me in 1981, Arudra said, "Our ancient poets said 
people's tongues are the palm leaves that safeguard the literature. Now the hearts of the people 
are the tape recorders that preserve literature." 

Arudra had experimented and produced valuable works in every literary genre — several 
techniques in poetry, literary history, short stories, detective novels, stage and radio plays, 
essays, lyrics and scripts for movies. Several of his lyrics and poems are still fresh in the hearts 
of the people. 

The two most important works that gave him a permanent place in the history of Telugu 
literature are Samagra Andhra Sahityam [A Comprehensive Literary History of the Andhra 
People] and Tvamevaaham, [You are I -an aphorism from Upanishads]. The two works left an 
indelible mark on the minds and in the hearts of Telugu people. 

His voluminous literature may be categorized into three areas: 1. works based on research, 2. 
creative writings (poetry, fiction, etc), and 3. lyrics and poetry written in a lighter vein. Further, 
his articles fall into the following categories: articles [1] related to the ancient and modern 
literature; [2] on fine arts and folk arts; [3] social reformers and others worked in the area; [4] 
movie industry; and, [5] miscellaneous. 

Arudra mentioned in one of his essays an incident that led to working on his major work, 
Samagra Andhra Sahityam. It was triggered by a brief conversation the author had with B. N. 
Reddy, a prominent movie producer. Arudra casually suggested to Reddy to make a movie on 
the famous poet Tikkana. Reddy asked Arudra to see if there was enough material to make a 

Arudra, as his wont, started researching the subject, and was fascinated by the enormous amount 
of material he had come across in the process. The movie did not happen but his research, which 
extended over a period of sixteen years, resulted in the said volumes. "The information useful for 
the race [of the Telugu people] must not be put away," he told himself, and set out to publish it in 
a series of volumes. The set of twelve volumes speaks of not only Arudra's thirst for knowledge 
and tenacity but also his commitment to the Telugu race. Arudra's commitment is evident from 
his comment that he quit smoking in order to continue his reading in the library uninterrupted. 

The history of the publication of his monumental work, Samagra Andhra Sahityam 
[Comprehensive Literary History of the Andhra people], is worth mentioning here. In the sixties, 
M. Seshachalam &Company created a project under the banner u intinti granthalayam [Library in 
every home]. Under the project, subscribers received books on a monthly basis. The company 
agreed to publish Samagra Andhra Sahityam in 12 volumes between 1965 and 1968. Arudra 
worked day and night incessantly to meet the publishers' guidelines, sometimes modifying the 
content to fit the size. After the 12th volume, the author realized that there was information for 
one more volume to cover the modern period. His health however held him back for a while. The 
first edition of 12 volumes sold out quickly. In 1988, Prajasakti publishers, Vijayawada, 
undertook to reprint the set. This time the author had the opportunity to include the details he had 
left out the first time and the volume on the modern period (volume 13). The second edition was 
published in 1991. Once again, the books were sold out quickly. In 2002, Ramalakshmi 
approached Andhra Pradesh Sahitya Akademi, and they agreed to publish the entire work in four 
volumes. At this writing, volume 1 of this set is out of print. 


Samagra Andhra Sahityam covering the period from the early Chalukya period (the eighth 
century to the British rule (the mid-nineteenth century) is not just a laundry list of authors' names 
and their works. In his preface, the author mentioned that history of any country encompasses the 
literary history as well as social history. To that end, Arudra included umpteen particulars about 
the authors, their works, critiques and the minutiae of daily life in the period under discussion. 

An important characteristic of these volumes is the language. Arudra wrote in colloquial Telugu 
in accordance with his belief that literature is for the people, kavisamrat Viswanatha 
Satyanarayana was strongly opposed to this view. It would appear that Satyanarayana was 
disappointed that Arudra did not write them in classical Telugu. 

The second book, tvamevaaham [You are I, an upanishadic axiom] is one of the most widely 
received poetry volume in the history of modern Telugu literature. It is a powerful statement on 
the atrocities committed by the Razakars under the Nizam regime in 1948. While the people 
protested against the Nizam rule, the razakars committed unspeakable crimes. It was a hell let 

In his preface, the author stated that he was inspired by a news item published in krishnapatrika, 
under the banner naakaa siggu, naa stritvam enaaDo poyindi [Me, ashamed? My femininity was 
long gone]. It narrated the story of a woman who removed her clothes in a third class railway 
compartment in a leisurely fashion. One of the passengers asked her if she were not ashamed to 
do so. She replied, 'Am I ashamed? How can I be? I was tied to a tree for twelve days in this 
manner by the razakars, the cronies of the Nizam, and was raped repeatedly. You did nothing. 
You should be ashamed". Several poets of Andhra Pradesh responded to the appalling incident 
and the atrocities. Arudra' s poem set him apart from the others for his technique and its 
commanding tone. 

The technique Arudra developed to write his poetry included rhyming couplets and extensive 
borrowing freely from Sanskrit, English and Urdu to make his point. Unlike other poets, Arudra 
did not use Sanskrit phraseology to impress the elite. He used them to create a stronger sense of 
the milieu. 

The book in several cantos using the clock-related terminology such as hours, minutes, seconds, 
water clock, and sand clock, depicts in analogous meter the atrocities and violence that had 
occurred during that period. 

In the preface to the book, Arudra said he originally called it Telangana. When he showed it to 
Sri Sri for his opinion, Sri Sri said he was very pleased with the poem. Regarding the title, Sri Sri 
said, "Giving the title Telangana to a book on Telangana is like drawing a picture of an elephant 
and call it elephant. It does not convey the essential message of the poem." Arudra then changed 
it to the current title. 

Let me digress here for a moment. Possibly the above incident could be the last when Arudra 
sought Sri Sri's opinion. In terms of ideologies, Arudra moved away from Sri Sri soon enough. 
While Sri Sri remained strictly adhered to his Marxist principles, Arudra studied the Marxist and 
other ideologies and imbibed the spirit of those principles. He then developed his own 
philosophy and remained a man of his own convictions. 

The book, tvamevaaham, was published in a biweekly magazine, Telugu swatantra, in 1949. I 
read it in the early fifties. I was not aware of the connotation and I did not understand every word 
of it, yet I was taken by the ambiance. It was one of my favorite readings at the time. The book 


has become an important part of history for its political and social context. That I came to know 
much later. 

The public reception of the book was not immediate though. Nearly four years later, in a letter to 
Dasarathi, Arudra stated that he [Dasarathi] was the first to make constructive comments on the 
book. Dasarathi praised it as unique for its style and content. The review was published in 
Bharati monthly in 1953. 

Arudra' s second daughter, Lalita, is a writer in her own right. She commented on tvamevaaham 
and translated one of the poems from the book. I was glad to note that her appreciation of the 
book was similar to mine. There is a notable difference of course. She is Arudra's daughter and 
thus has a better sense of the poetic quality in it. You can find Lalita's comments and the 
translation on her blog, Click on the October 2007 folder and 
scroll down to The Train You Intended to Take. 

Among his other anthologies of poetry, koonalamma padaalu deserves special mention. In his 
preface, the author mentioned that he had come across an article by Veturi Prabhakara Sastry on 
the eight poems with the caption O Koonalammaal In Bharati monthly in 1930. Arudra stated, 
"When I first read them, I was excited; the poems moved me and provoked me. The divine skill 
imbibed in these poems mesmerized me. ... I scrutinized them closely and, after understanding 
the depth of meaning in those poems, decided to write similar poems and bring them to light." 

Arudra researched further and found that the time when these were written could not be 
established with certainty. He was however certain that they were being sung in the 17th century. 
Arudra arrived at two premises: 1 . they were probably not written by Koonalamma herself but 
written by someone else as a tribute to Koonalamma, 2. they followed a particular type of meter 
that included rhyming the first three lines and ending with the caption, O Koonalamma as the 4t 
line. He discussed the meter in detail in this preface to this book. (I would not want to go into 
that area, since it is all Greek and Latin to me.) 

Here are a couple of poems I translated. Of course, the original poems are more fascinating. 
Andhra folks' passion, 

Ghosh, is a load 

That never lives to see the end 

Oh Koonalamma. 

The debt keeps growing 

The shoe keeps stinging 

It is a flame unavailable for viewing 

Oh Koonalamma. 

Arudra's poetry in lighter vein is equally captivating. His poems under titles, intinti pajyaalu and 
America intinti pajyaalu illustrate the humorous side of events in our daily lives — his comments 
on the everyday realities and lifestyles. His humorous side is obvious even in the spelling of the 
title. His spelling was in step with the prevalent pronunciation at a time when it was not common 
in written texts. 


Arudra is a great juggler of words. It is not an exaggeration to state that his rhyme brought him 
closer to the vast majority of readers. In his preface to the book, he mentioned that he modeled 
these poems, intinti pajyaalu, on the poetry of Ogden Nashe. Aptly, he stated, 

American poet, Ogden Nashe 

Had made plenty of cash, 

As for me, all I wish for 

Is a nod of sehbash 

Here are a couple of poems from intinti pajyaalu. 

Cricket match 

To tell the truth, I cannot play cricket 
Yet, for every match, I buy the ticket 

Between Umrigar, Bordey and Desai, I cannot tell the difference 

Not even when I'm close by. 

That's why, when our team is fielding 

I shout aloud, "Milka Singh" 

He wears a turban and a beard 

That's how I remember him well. 

History on the move: 

The hare and the tortoise made a wager 

I'll tell you how the tortoise won the race 

He walked the one hundred miles 

While the hare switched two trains 

The book, America intinti pajyaalu [Poems in homes in America] depicts similar incidents in the 
homes of Telugu people in America. Personally, I think the real Telugu humor did not seep 
through in these poems as well as its precedent. Again, it could be my frame of mind. 

Arudra wrote another book of poems, madhyakkaralu, to prove his argument that writing 
metrical poetry need not be laden heavily with meandering Sanskrit phraseology. Earlier, 
Viswanatha Satyanarayana published a volume entitled viswanatha madhyakkaralu, which 
received Sahitya Akademi award. Arudra called his book suddha madhyakkaralu, highlighting 
that his technique was the pure form and yet intelligible to all readers. His 
intent was to show that the ancient principles of poetics were just as suitable for colloquial 
Telugu as the classical Telugu. 

In addition to his Samagra Andhra Sahityam, Arudra had written numerous essays over a period 
of fifty years. Most of them were published in anthologies such as mahaneeyulu [Great 
Personalities], vyaasapeetham [Articles on a wide variety of topics including history, classics, 
society, journalism, and movies], Ramudiki Sita Emavutundi [How Sita is related to Rama], 
temple sculpture, and prajakalalu and pragativaadulu [Folk arts and Freethinkers]. 


The book, Ramudiki Sita emavutundi is one of his works that explains his mode of thinking. In 
this book, he takes a popular adage, which implies that the question, how is Sita related to Rama, 
is idiotic since the answer is obvious; a question nobody in his right mind would ask. Arudra 
however takes the question seriously, and gives numerous examples from various texts in other 
cultures and other countries to show that the answer is more complex than appears to be. The 
book clearly gives a lot for the reader to wonder about and think. 

In 1999, Ramalakshmi has decided to publish all the works of Arudra. One of them is a 
collection of critical essays on a wide variety of topics, entitled wyasapeetham the second 
imprint. The essays range from Vedic times to the beliefs and practices in modern times — 
legends and facts surrounding various mythological characters such as Krishna, Sita, Draupadi, 
various issues as described in Vedas, women's position in society, customs at various times, 
persons of importance in the movie industry, the state of today's journalism, and so on. The 
volume speaks of Arudra's tenacious pursuit of knowledge on one hand and his ability to present 
the topics in a language that is appealing to the widest audience. Arudra excels in capturing his 
audience's attention. 

In some case, the articles clarify some of the popular notions. Others provide additional 
information and educate the readers. In his article on what the word putrika meant, Arudra 
points out that the word was originally meant to refer to the daughter who had no brothers. He 
quoted ancient texts such as Manu dharmasastra, Vedas, and modern Vedic authorities 
(Panchagnula Adinarayana Sastry) and western scholars (Sir Moniere Williams) to support his 
view. He also quotes from Women in the Vedic Age by Sakuntala rao Sastry, wherein Mrs. 
Sakuntala rao comments, "After the male domination came into play, the woman without 
brothers was labeled putrika and declared unfit for marriage. Sayanacharya who had written 
commentary on Vedas attributed the 14th century A.D. mode of thinking to the Vedic period". 
Arudra would append his own views wherever he felt strongly about the issue on hand. For 
instance, in the above article, he asked why today' s traditionalists accept the Vedas as 
authoritative, yet would not allow the same rights to women that had been allowed in the Vedic 
period (p. 58). 

Vemanna Vedam is another valuable work of Arudra. Vemana, a 14th century poet, is highly 
respected for his keen insights into the customs of society and pungent remarks. Arudra 
interpreted these poems, quoting extensively from the Vedas and other scholarly works. His 
commentary adds immensely to the study of Vemana's poems. 

Arudra has written books on palmistry, hand gestures in bharatanatyam, people and folk arts, and 
on chess among several others. 

The book, hastalakshanam, is a small book in which Arudra wrote poems illustrating the hand 
gestures in classical dance. He worked closely with Padma Subrahmanyam, a famous dancer, to 
explain the underlying philosophy. 

In the early eighties, I started working on Telugu writers for a doctoral dissertation (never 
finished). In that context, I contacted several writers. Arudra was kind enough to respond to my 
questions. I am happy I could share his thoughts with you at this late date. 

Arudra in his own wordsTn a letter dated July 28, 1981, Arudra wrote: 

1. Prior to entering the movie industry, I have gained the knowledge of writing good lyrics 
from the standpoint of literary technique. After getting into the movies, I understood the 


technique from the standpoint of music. I understood specifically how to use the rhyme and 
assonance. My technique improved because of the movies, but not hurt. 

2. The movie industry is only a business in the world of capitalist society. Producers make 
movies only to make money. If a competent director has good taste, he will be able to create a 
movie that does not fall below the standard. Writer is a part of this team. This is a collaborative 

3. When a writer writes a lyric and publishes in a magazine, a reader reads it, sitting at home. 
Between him and a moviegoer, there is a big difference. These differences are inevitable in 
today's society. As long as there is a difference between the literature that is read and the one 
that is heard, there will also be a difference between literary technique and the literature of the 
movies. For example, once, I read a poem aloud in a literary meet. It opens on the lines, "Is this 
the country where Gandhi was born?" Later, there was an occasion where I had to write the 
same as a lyric for a movie. The views were the same but the way it was expressed had to be 
changed. I did it myself. One of the trade secrets of the artist is to be able to change the technique 
according to the medium. The difference between the stage play and the screenplay is the same 
as the literary technique and the movie technique. It is just as crucial. 

4. I have written numerous movie songs. I was never ashamed of the songs I have written for 
the movies. On the other hand, I am proud of them. I have been working in the industry for 32 
years now (1981) that is about 3200 over the years. On average, I have been writing one hundred 
songs per year, maybe more. Some of these songs have become very popular. A few dozens of 
them are still being heard from individual singers, and broadcast on radio and television even 
now. Our ancient poets said that we might call them lyrics only those which act as the palm 
leaves for the tongues of the people. I am content that I have written songs that are tape recorders 
for the hearts of the people. 

5. I will not be disappointed if a producer or director asks me to change the lines. Movie songs 
require fixing. The song must be suitable for the episode and the presentation of it in the movie. 
Without thinking about the episode, the writer might imagine it in a different way. Then one of 
them would have to change his mode of thinking. It is appropriate for the writer to modify the 
song. How can a writer satisfy hundreds and thousands of audience, if he cannot satisfy the 
producer and the director? 

6. There was no occasion I had to write songs that were not consistent with my outlook. 

7. There were occasions when the storyline was changed based on my song. Director Tilak used 
to change the storyline based on the songs I had written. Once I wrote a song, raayinaina kaaka 
pothine [Why I have not turned into a rock at least?] for a private recording. Bapu heard it and 
was so pleased he created a scene in his movie goranta deepam. They do ask for my suggestions 
as well. 

8. To entertain the public is also one of the functions of literature. I think this can be attained 
through movie songs to a great extent. I was very pleased when I heard one of my songs from the 
movie premalekhalu, sung by workers at the railway station by coal lines. Same way, when 
people, whom I've never met before, would approach me on the railway platform or some other 
place and congratulate me for the song muthemanta pasupu. Where is greater joy than knowing 
that my song has given them on the spot respite for a few minutes? [Sadyah eva nivruthi.] 


9. My ideology is scientific equality. I am including this in the movies whenever possible in an 
easily understandable, colloquial Telugu and using popular adages, but not with stock phrases. 
Nevertheless, the producer would allow the premise of equality only if it fits today's business 
framework. In today's template movies liberalism is nil. The views in the songs make an 
impression only when the entire movie resonates with liberalism. Otherwise, it will be like the 
juice and solids remain separate. 

Additionally, Arudra included his answer to a question I did not answer. He said, "my answer to 
the question you did not ask is: 

In the Telugu movie industry, numerous literary stalwarts such as Veluri Sivarama sastry, 
Viswanatha Satyanarayana, and Viswanatha Kaviraju, have written lyrics. So also progressive 
writers like Devulapalli, Sri Sri, Dasarathi, Si.Na.Re, and Atreya. Before the formation of 
Abhyudaya Rachayitala Sangham in 1947, we used to argue that we should write in a language 
that is intelligible to all the people. Yet we filled our writings with phrases built on Sanskrit 
phraseology [tatsamabhuuyishtamaina] that was incomprehensible to the people. After joining 
the movie industry, the language has taken the forms of desyam [native], aicchikam [random], 
and graameenam [rural]. Nowadays, nobody is writing lyrics filled with Sanskrit phrases, unless 
it is a purana movie. This is a linguistic revolution. 

And in his second letter dated October 21, 1981, he added, "Writing for the movies is my 
vocation. Literature is my passion. It is morally untenable to yield to shameful acts in the name 
of one's work. For that reason, I will never do anything that is dishonorable voluntarily. 

In literature, a disparity between the writer and reader leads to communication gap. That 
happened at the time of tvamevaaham was published. Even a great poet like Bhartruhari 
despaired that jeernamange subhashitam. [Good words are lost in oneself for want of receptive 
audience.] Kalidasu lost heart and said that puraanamiteva na saadhu sarvam. [Not everything 
is commendable because it is old]. Bhavabhuti had to tell himself vipulaa ca prithvee [The world 
is expansive] and be content with it. Chemakura Venkanna was annoyed that ee gati 
raciyincireni samakaalikulu meccharu gadaa [Contemporaries do not appreciate regardless in 
whatever style you write]. 

"For those who introduce innovative trends, this problem is inevitable. For the writers who think 
that they are right and the people are idiots, there is no problem, none whatsoever, for instance, 
Viswanatha. I am people's writer. Real writer is a person of the society he lives in [sanghajeevi] . 
The purpose of literature is inherent in the society's activities. The elite may hold the same 
disrespectful view towards the movie writings as their view towards folk songs. The epics live on 
paper. Lyrics live on the tongues of the people. Songs sung along with pestle and mortars are the 
songs. Now I am very happy that my writings are within the reach of the ordinary people." 

To conclude, I would like to quote the last lines in the volume 13 of Samagra Andhra Sahityam. 
Arudra stated that in recording any literary history, the modern period begins but does not end. 
... In a continuing tradition, the details of movements and the episodes are only comas and 
semicolons . . . but there will be no full stops." 

Arudra left his legacy for Telugu people to continue. As long as the history is in the making, the 
legacy of Arudra will remain in the hearts and on the minds of Telugu people. 


Source list. 

Arudra Abhinandana Sanchika. Madras: Arudra Shashtipurti Celebration Committee, 1985. 
Works by Arudra. 

1. Poetry. Sinivaali. Madras: M. Seshachalam &Co., 1960. 
Suddha Madhyakkaralu. Chennai: Stri Sakti prachuranalu, 1999 
Tvamevaaham. Secunderabad: Chanda Narayana Shreshti, 1962. 

2. Critical works (Books and anthologies of essays) Mahaneeyulu (pen portraits). Chennai: K. 
Ramalakshmi, 1979 

Prajakalalu, Pragativaadulu. Vijayawada: Prajasakti Book House, [1986] 
Ramudiki Sita emautundi. Vijayawada: Navodaya publishers, 1978 
Samagra Andhra Sahityam. 4 vols. Hyderabad: Sahitya Akademi, 2002. 
Vemana Vedam. Vijayawada: New Students Book Center, 1985 
Vyasapitham. Vijayawada: New Students Book Center, 1985. 

3. Fiction 

Arudra kathalu. Vijayawada: Vijayasarathi prachurana. 1966 

Complete list of Arudra's works is available at 



After arriving in the U.S. in 1973, 1 became intensely aware of the incongruities on the surface in 
the two cultures — American and Indian — and the commonalities beneath. Struck by culture 
shock, and encouraged by my American friends, I launched the website, , in an 
attempt to demystify the stereotypical perceptions while identifying the underlying 
commonalities in our beliefs and customs. Reasons developed in course of time include the 
interests of the current generation Telugu youth, who cannot read Telugu script and have gotten 
used to English so well that they are comfortable reading the stories in English. Additionally, the 
site has been recognized as a valuable source for scholars in multicultural education and Telugu 
literature by the academy globally. 

Basically, this article addresses the criteria for selecting the stories, which reflect our intrinsic 
values as opposed to the values newly developed in recent times, and those that explain the age- 
old customs specific to Telugu culture. Another criterion has been whether a given story lends 
itself to translation reasonably well. 

Secondly, the problematic areas in translation discussed in this article are: Native flavor, 
dialectal variations, phrases peculiar to Telugu, proverbs (those that are easily translatable and 
those that are not), humor, and structure; and the Linguistic areas: Pronouns, forms of address, 
and grammar, especially tense. Valuable experiences have been gained from interaction with the 
authors of source texts and critical scrutiny of the submissions of translators to our website. 

In the summer of 1978, I started teaching Telugu as Second Language at the university of 
Wisconsin-Madison. While working with the students and talking with my friends at the 
university, I noticed the stereotypical perceptions prevalent in America. The repeatedly asked 
questions reminded me of the typecasting we, the Telugu people, do of Americans. It made me 
think of ways to dispel some of the misconceptions at least. Being a writer, I wanted to pass on 
our stories, which would reflect the fundamental principles we have cherished in our culture and 
the broader spectrum of our writers to the non-Telugu readers in the process. 

Before launching my website, I decided to research what was available in translations. My 
findings confirmed my belief that Telugu fiction had been conspicuous by its absence on the 
international literary scene. Very little Telugu fiction was available in the media and on the 
Internet, although there was considerable amount of fiction from other Indian languages. 
Secondly, there was no systematic attempt to illustrate the broad range of our writers in a 
coherent and comprehensive manner. Thirdly, the translations were always of the stories by a 
few reputable authors, which meant ignoring other excellent stories by other writers. Fourth, in 
the published translations, there seemed to be an assumption that the readers were familiar with 
our language and culture. To put it in another way, the academic journals and the web magazines 
had been catering either to the pan-Indian readers or to the foreign readers familiar with Indian 
culture. In short, there had been no well-organized effort to translate modern Telugu fiction in a 
cohesive manner. To my knowledge, the published works in translation had not reached the 


readers outside India, particularly outside the academy. Further, the academy appeared to be 
more focused on ancient poetry, especially the romantic poetry in translations to the detriment of 
fiction. I was convinced that there was a dire need to present Telugu fiction in English to the 
global audience, especially those who had not been familiar with our language and culture. With 
that in mind, I launched the website, in June 2001, creating a platform exclusively 
devoted to disseminating modern Telugu fiction, and introducing the broader spectrum of the 
intellectual richness and the talent of several writers from Andhra Pradesh to the global audience. 

My next step was to examine the readers' preferences. From what I gathered, people read stories 
from another culture not only to appreciate the intellectual perceptions prevalent in that country 
but also to draw parallels from everyday lives and understand how the problems in question were 
dealt with in the other cultures. Suffering is universal; happiness is universal; so also a host of 
other issues in human life. One good example is marriage. Americans are curious about arranged 
marriages in our country and our media plays up to their curiosity. Sad but true is the fact that 
most of these stories make no attempt to explain the underlying principle of the arranged 
marriages or why the custom was put in place to begin with, how it has been playing out in times 
of adversity and its metamorphosis in modern times. After watching the wedding process in 
America, I have concluded that, in a marriage, the most important aspect is not how you arrive 
there but what you would do to make it work. In both the cultures keeping marriage together is 
hard work. With this kind of debate going in my head, I made my primary goal not to criticize 
one culture or the other but to draw the analogues and highlight the commonalities in human 

Translations are hard. Crosscultural translations are harder. There is no translation, certainly no 
word for word translation, which permits us to switch back and forth with mechanical precision. 
In my interaction with some of the readers, I have noticed that native speakers and writers often 
tend to retranslate, unconsciously I might add, as they continue reading a translation. Usually it 
shows in their comments. I believe that, in order to appreciate a translation, the reader must be 
willing to accept certain prerequisites. For a foreign reader, it is the need to leave his/her 
preconceived notions about the other culture and start afresh. For a native reader, it is the 
willingness to beware that the translation has been done for a reader, who cannot read the 
original in Telugu and is unfamiliar with the Telugu language and culture. Personally, I think 
crosscultural translation is transcreation and the translator is invariably a creative writer. 

There are several elements to consider in translating for crosscultural audience. I will briefly 
discuss each of these aspects such as dialectal variations, native flavor, structure, phrases 
peculiar to Telugu, proverbs, and grammar comprising tense, pronouns, and proper nouns. 
Humor is one more element that requires close attention with reference to the target audience. 

The first step would be to identify the peculiarities of the source language and the target 
language. Clearly, the language I learned at Andhra University, Waltair, India, is not sufficient 
for translating for American readers. If I want the Americans to read my translations, I need to 
give the stories to them in American English. At the beginning, I started out with seeking advice 
from my American friends on my translations. One of them was Dr. Abbie Ziffren, who had 
been a great help in fine-tuning my language. In 1982, my first translation, "Man, Woman," 


[Racakonda Viswanatha Sastry, "mogavaadu, aadamanishi"] was published in the Journal of 
South Asia Literatures. (1982) 

Soon enough, I realized that there was no consensus regarding the "correct" usage. Each time, I 
corrected the text according to one person's suggestions, and showed it to another friend, there 
were more corrections. Sometimes, I would have to "do and undo" the same words back and 
forth. Finally, I realized that, while the American English had its distinctive features, there were 
always variations in the preferences of each person regarding how a word was used or how a 
sentence was constructed. 

Selection Criteria 

Initially, my selections were based on the premise stated above, namely, introducing the 
fundamental philosophy underling our mode of thinking, lifestyles and customs. Therefore, I 
turned my attention invariably to the stories written in the nineteen forties, fifties and sixties — 
during which period Telugu fiction flourished. As my work progressed, I continued to redefine 
and fine-tune my criteria for selection. 

My second criterion has been the ease of diction, which is controversial in itself, and, which is 
explained by the translation process illustrated below. Third is the literary value and/or the 
author's unique style. As mentioned earlier, I strongly believe that it is important to introduce not 
only the most prominent writers but also other good writers in order to illustrate the breadth of 
our artistic accomplishment and for a better understanding of our cultural values. 

Finally, I did not care for the stories focused on specific ideologies. I feel that such stories have 
received extensive exposure in other journals and websites and there is no need for me to rehash 
the same. However, on occasion, I would make exception as in the case of the story "The Rite of 
sacrifice" (Rama Rao. Yajnam.). Further discussion follows under the subheading Structure. 

Dialectal and regional variations 

In Andhra Pradesh, the dialectal variations are based on several aspects. They vary not only from 
region to region, but also, within a given region, there are variations based on caste, calling, 
education and economic status. Some families may even develop their own language from a mix 
of a few dialects. The differences in regional dialects such as Chittoor, Telangana and Coastal 
Andhra are accepted as dialects. Then there are also variations in spelling of specific words, 
which come into play, defying the regional and caste practices. 

There is no consensus concerning how to handle the dialectal variations in translation. A well- 
known dramatist and actor, Ravi Kondala Rao argued that it would be impossible to impart the 
native flavor of the source language effectively into another language and therefore translations 
would be pointless (Kondala Rao. Aa sogasu vastundaa? [Can that beauty be achieved {in a 
translation}]? Apparently, Kondala Rao has missed the one point, which is, translations are 
meant for those who cannot read the Telugu originals. For instance, in the sixties, the translations 
of Hunchback of Notre Dame [ghantaaraavam] by Surampudi Sitaram, and A Tale of Two Cities 
[rendu mahanagaraalu] by Tenneti Suri were received by Telugu readers with remarkable 


enthusiasm because of the beauty in the Telugu versions regardless of the native flavor in the 
originals. I am sure that a vast majority of the readers did not read the originals in French and 
English and did not care for what they might be missing. 

In addition to the foreign readers, in recent times, there are two more groups of readers, who are 
enjoying the translations in English. First group consists of the educated Telugu people who have 
gotten used to using English as their first language, almost, and thus enjoying reading Telugu 
stories in English. The second group is the current day Telugu youth who have attended English 
medium schools and thus are unable to read the Telugu script. They, being knowledgeable in 
Telugu culture, are different from the foreign readers though. Nonetheless, they all enjoy the 
translations in English with the same fervor. 

For the purpose of this article, the target audience is assumed to be unfamiliar with the Telugu 
language and culture. 

Language: Pedantic versus Colloquial 

In modern Telugu fiction, in literature the language started out as the language used by the polite 
society, known as sishtajana vyaavahaarikam, which is translatable fairly well. Basically, it is the 
language standardized and adopted by magazines and the other media. The underlying 
philosophy is stories written in sishtajana vyaavahaarikam would reach a wide range of readers 
across the state. In English, this is comparable to the British English I had learned at Andhra 
University. Of course, still there are variations such as spelling between British and American 

Colloquial style, on the other hand, consists of several dialects. The vary based on region, social 
groups, and even sophistication of the readers. To be honest, some of the dialects are beyond my 
comprehension despite my stay in those regions for considerable amount of time. In that sense, 
stories written in regional dialects and the dialects of rural communities pose bigger problems for 

In America, the colloquial forms include words spelled as spoken, contractions and ellipses. For 
example "I ain't cummin'" for "I am not coming", "Whaddyado" for "What do you do", "bro" 
for brother, "ADD" for "attention deficit disorder" and so on. However, this implies 
understanding a completely new language, which is beyond my comprehension. For that reason, 
I have decided to stay with the language of the polite society and paraphrase it, where occasion 
called for it. 

However, I have attempted to bring about some distinction between the pedantic and the 
colloquial styles in my translations. For instance, one may notice the difference in the 
translations between the two stories, "The Soul wills it" (Satyanarayana. jeevudi ishtam) and 
"Middle Class Complex" (Venkataramana. janataa express). I used the pedantic style in the 
former and the colloquial style in the latter. Pavani Sastry on behalf of his father, late 
Viswanatha Satyanarayana, and Venkataramana expressed their satisfaction with my 
translations. Venkataramana wrote to me, "People say my stories are hard to translate but you 
have done good job." (Personal correspondence with the author.). I was able to do justice to his 


story, "Middle Class Complex" mainly because there was a story to tell, and the humor in the 
story emanated from the incidents universal in nature. On the other hand, another story by the 
same author, "Radha's debt" [Radhamma baki] was hard to translate since it contained humor 
and phraseology that would go beyond the pale of my language skills. That being the case, I 
chose to write an analytical article, explaining the humor in the story, instead of translating it. I 
believe I have succeeded in conveying a taste of the humor prevalent in our society to the non- 
native speakers through my review. 

Native flavor 

As mentioned earlier, the native flavor is a big problem in translations, possibly, even within the 
context of Indian languages. For instance a phrase like katha Kancikee, manam intikee, 
[Literally, the story moved on to the town of Kanjeepuram and we to our homes] may have 
similar phrases in other languages possibly with the name of a different town in their area. In 
such instances, the translator would have to decide whether he would keep the proper noun, 
Kanjeepuram, or choose the equivalent phrase in the target language. Personally, I would prefer 
the Telugu phrase and provide an explanation. 

Second aspect of the native flavor is the sonorous quality of Telugu. The vowel-ending feature 
and alliterations contribute to the musical nature of our language. One has to be a poet to bring 
about that effect. Although I am not a poet, I will try my best to achieve that effect. I will remind 
myself that I was translating a story, not poetry. Stories by Rachakonda Viswanatha Sastry fall 
under this category. In his stories, there is a story to tell and poetry to experience the beauty of 
the language, which is a major component in his success as a storyteller. 

On rare occasions, I feel a story untranslatable because of its musical quality. Had I chosen such 
a story for a different reason, I would elaborate on the native flavor in the editorial. If the entire 
story is poetic in nature, and I am trying to translate it, I will alert the readers at the beginning 
itself of what they might be missing in the translation along with the high watermarks in the 
story. Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry's stories are known for his command of diction. The 
traditional values, especially the manner in which he deals with the institution of prostitution, is 
not exactly my cup of tea yet his presentation is captivating. 


Occasionally, I would select a story specifically for its historical significance and the details it 
provides about lives of the rural communities. One such story is "yajnam" (Rama Rao). This 
critically acclaimed and highly controversial story has been translated by more than one 
translator, I believe. I have not seen the other translations but I am positive that there are 
significant differences between my translation and the other translations. In this story, apart from 
the author's use of Srikakulam dialect and the farming community, there is a passage where the 
protagonist, Appalramudu, delivers a speech, which runs to about four pages. Additionally, the 
speech is interspersed with episodes from the past. That requires the reader to move back and 
forth in time, and grasp the speech at two levels — the past and the present. That puts a huge 
burden on the mind of a reader unfamiliar with our culture; it would be frustrating. Therefore, I 
have made some structural changes in my translation with the author's express permission. 


One more factor to remember is we have not outgrown the use of some of the elements of 
narrative technique common in oral tradition. Telling a story to a live audience has its advantages 
and is hard to resist. Besides, Telugu readers have no problem with the elements of oral tradition 
such as switching between the past and the present and digressions in a narrative. Nevertheless, it 
is a problem for readers from other cultures. 

In a heartrending story of a working-class woman, "A Desperate Cry" (Ranganayakamma. 
aarthanadam.), the author, includes an episode containing a long humorous dialogue between a 
grandmother and her grandchildren. The episode has no relevance to the original story and the 
language she used is not easy to translate because of the various forms of address and trivial 
phraseology. It is a structural flaw in the story. Further discussion of this episode is given under 

Dhvani [suggestion] and vakrokti [indirect communication] in translations 

Dhvani [suggestion] and vakrokti [indirect communication] are common in literatures but 
problematic in crosscultural translation. While the concept is known in all literatures, it is not 
easy to comprehend the full meaning in the stories from other cultures. It makes the reader 
constantly worry that he, being unaware of the nuance, might be missing something. That would 
be an additional burden on the reader, and subsequently discouraging to continue to read the 
story. In such instances also, I would add a brief note. For the same reason, long conversations 
involving too many phrases like "you know what I mean" are best avoided. 

Grammar: Tense 

In Telugu, we switch tenses freely. In English the tense needs to agree with the actual sequence 
of events within a given time frame. If the story is told in the paste tense, any references to the 
previous incidents should be told in the past perfect. In some of our stories, we find long 
narrations of previous incidents, which require past perfect forms. The use of "had" in each 
sentence in a long passage is grammatically correct yet disruptive to the flow, especially if the 
previous incident runs to two or three pages. Added to the confusion is when the previous 
incident has references to another incident further back in time. Some of my friends suggested 
indenting or changing the font size in order to mark the change in tense visible in long passages. 

Another suggestion is to add opening and closing lines at the beginning and the end of the long 
narration of the past. The additional lines help the reader to move back and forth in time along 
with the story. In shorter sentences, I would avoid the use of past perfect tense sometimes. For 
instance, a sentence like "He had four children" seems to mean he "had children in the past but 
not now". After consulting my American friends, I have learned one way to circumvent the 
problem is to rearrange the sentences. I could say, "His sons were helping him in chores" or 
something similar to that effect, based on the context. Implicitly, the readers would know that he 
had children at the time of narration. 

Non-finite verb forms 


A linguistic peculiarity in Telugu is the use of nonfinite verbs [asamaapaka kriya]. In English, it 
would be a series of short complete sentences or used in conjunction with a gerund, the -ing 
ending. A phrase like cheppi vacchaanu translates as either "I said and came", or, 'After telling, I 
came". In either case, the actual verb for cheppu [to say] fails to convey the ease of diction, 
which the Telugu phrase carries. This example is the simplest in this type of construction. There 
are other instances where a series of nonfinite verbs may be used to build tempo. Native speakers 
appreciate the escalating tension as they read the sentence. In translation, we can hardly 
accomplish that pace with the use of gerunds or several short sentences. 

The longest sentence I have come across is the first paragraph in "Meaningless Union" 
(Puranam Subrahmanya Sarma. anavasara dampatyam). The very first sentence runs to fourteen 
lines and contains twenty-three nonfinite verbs, not to mention a few verbal adjectives! In my 
translation, I broke them into shorter sentences. Also, of necessity, I moved the last part of the 
fourteen-line sentence to the beginning. This is necessitated by the differences in the sentence 
structures in the two languages — Telugu and English. 


The abundance of pronouns in Telugu language vouches for its richness. We have six forms for 
the third person singular, male, vaadu, atanu, aayana, veedu, ithanu, eeyana — all translate into 
one word "he" in English. In addition, we have a gender-free pronoun, tanu, which acts like a 
third person singular, which will be discussed later. 

Consider the following sentence for translation and note the resulting confusion in 
translation. Aayana vaadini kaafee tecci ataniki immannaaru. Vaadu kaafee tecci ataniki iccaadu. 
The translation could be, "He told him to bring coffee for him. He brought it and gave it to him." 
In this case, once again, it would be immensely helpful to the reader if the translator makes clear 
who is who, and who is doing what. 

The use of the pronoun "those" for "they" may be grammatically correct yet looks odd at the end 
of a sentence. Translation for annaaru vaallu as "said those" does not look right to me, at least. I 
would prefer using "those" as an adjective and "they" as a proper noun. Thus, my translation 
would be "they said" or "said those [farmers]" or whoever the people happened to be in the 

The second person, singular and plural pronouns, meeru and nuvvu translate into English as the 
same word, "you". There is no distinction between formal and informal, or singular and plural. 
In this case, the translation may lose the cultural nuance. 

One good example is a conversation between a husband and wife. In Andhra Pradesh, the 
husband- wife relationship is complex. The use of second person singular pronouns, nuvvu and 
meeru used by husband and wife calls for attention. I am aware that the usage varies depending 
on the region, caste, economic status and, in modern times, sophistication. Despite these 
variations, customarily, it is considered normal for husband to address wife as nuvvu and wife to 
address husband as meeru. This usage presupposes a shade of hierarchy in a familial context. 
Additionally, the verb endings change, which again are missed in the translation. In some stories, 


the author may be making this distinction to drive home a point. In the story, "Poet's Wife" 
(Krishnakumari. kavi gaari bharya), the narrator comments that the poet's wife referred to her 
husband as meeru or nuvvu depending on what she thought of him — as husband or uncle's son — 
at a given moment. In such cases, a brief note is needed invariably. 

Two vocative forms require special attention for the same reason. In an informal setting, people 
of the same age group use the vocative forms, orei and osei, males and females respectively 
among themselves. The closest form in English would be "hey". Probably, the use of "hey" is 
acceptable in a casual conversation but not when the author makes a point of it specifically. In 
the story, "Rite of Sacrifice", the narrator comments that the village head, Sriramulu Naidu 
addresses the poor farmer, Appalramudu, as emoi but never as orei (Rama Rao. Yajnam). Native 
speakers would know that emoi is informal and respectful and orei is demeaning in this 
particular context. By "in this context", I mean there are other instances when orei will not be 
considered offensive as in the case of men of the same age group. 

I have also noticed that long Indian names such as Sitaramudu and Sriramulu Naidu (Rama Rao. 
"yajnam") will be confusing to the non-native speakers. Several forms of the same name like 
Erri, Errakka, and Erramma are also prone to be mistaken for the names of three people. 

Proper nouns based on physical attributes 

In "Choices". (Chaganti Somayajulu. Empu), the author used physical attributes as personal 
names — Kunti for a crippled man and Guddi for a blind man. Technically, these terms are not 
different from names like Visalakshi, meaning a woman with large eyes or Syamasundar for a 
man with dark skin. The latter examples however are not considered offensive. On the other 
hand, the terms referring to physical limitations are derogatory and often accepted only by the 
people who are not in a position to protest. Perhaps, that is one of the messages the author 
intended to convey. However, the literal translations of these terms as "crippled" and "blind" 
would not be appropriate in my opinion. A non-heritage speaker would interpret them as 
insensitive. I am not saying they are not insensitive. That is not the cultural trait I would want to 
convey. I would rather keep the original terminology as is and explain them in a footnote. 

Professional terminology as Proper Nouns 

Another trait in our culture is to use professional terminology as personal names. For example, 
Beenadevi used daactaru garu and jadjee garu in her story, "A Piece of Ribbon" [ribbanu 
mukka"]. My dilemma was whether to treat them as English words and follow the English 
spelling or treat them as given names and follow the spellings according to our Telugu custom. If 
I were to consider the words as professional titles, I should spell them as doctor garu and judge 
garu. Also, I would have to use the articles 'a' or 'the' appropriately. Then I would be failing to 
convey to the reader an important cultural trait, which is, forging close friendship with the 
professionals we come across in our lives and using the terms as personal names regardless of 
their professional status. As a translator, I think it is important for me to create an environment in 
the translation so the foreign reader would understand all these implications. 


In this regard, I have consulted several Americans, both friends and strangers. Once again, there 
is no consensus since the concept is foreign to them. I have decided to treat them as personal 
names, spell them per our custom, and explain it in a footnote or in the editorial. 

Relational terminologies as Proper Nouns 

Relevant to our discussion are the forms of address prevalent in our society. We have different 
terms for the children of brothers or sisters (baava, maridi, vadina, maradalu) as opposed to the 
children of two sisters or two brothers. Terms like atta garu, tammudu, and akkayya tell 
immensely about our culture. I also would like to see these terms find their way into English 
across the world the same way karma and masala are incorporated into English. Maybe I am 
being naive; maybe I am being ambitious, but certainly, I would like to work towards that end! 

In America, all these relational terms, including persons from different generations, are rolled up 
into a single term, "cousin". If I translate chinnakka and peddakka, as "little big sister" and "big 
big sister", it does not make sense and is certain to hurt the flow. Further, in a dialogue, it is hard 
to use them as vocative forms; it would be jarring. It is also hard to let the reader understand that 
sometimes, the same term such as peddakka may be used by others even when there is no 
relationship between the two. Another contradiction is the standard ML A requirement that all 
foreign words should be italicized. 

For instance, in the story, "My sister: A Classy Lady [Tulasi. hundaa], akkayya is known only as 
akkayya. In all, I have been treating the relational terminology as personal names, unless the 
story calls for a different interpretation. Additionally, I would suggest referring to the glossary 
for further explanation. Incidentally, I might add, that the glossary on my site is the most 
frequently accessed file yet! 

A unique pronoun in Telugu language is tanu, which is technically third person singular pronoun. 
When the author uses tanu as narrator, the entire story is told from the point of view of that 
character as if it is a first person singular pronoun. Unlike the third person pronouns, tanu is not 
gender-specific. Sometimes, but not always, it is possible to deduce the gender by the verb- 
endings in a given sentence. It is a long ride for the reader before he can figure it out on his own. 

Writers may occasionally use this term loosely, giving rise to some confusion. In the story, "He 
is I" [Ramakrishna Sastry. soham], the narrator switches between "I" and "tanu" rather 
erratically. This form of narrative, distinctive in oral tradition, is easily understood by native 
speakers but confusing to the readers from other cultures. Therefore, I take it upon myself to be 
consistent even when it meant a departure from the original text. 

Phrases and Idioms 

We may classify Telugu phrases into three categories: 1 . Phrases that allow straight translation; 
2. Phrases and idioms, which may be translated with some effort; and, 3. Phrases and idioms, 
which require considerable effort to make them comprehensible to the foreign audience. In the 
latter two instances, the question is to what degree we can make the necessary changes in the 
original. How do we find a meaningful phrase or sentence, which will capture the reader's 


imagination and, at the same time, convey the cultural nuance? Second question is whether we 
should use the English equivalents wherever available or translate the Telugu phrases to 
highlight the Telugu nuance and provide the English equivalent in a footnote. 

Phrases, which allow straight translation 

There are not many but a few like pustakappurugu, which translates as bookworm easily. The 
phrase chevini vesukonakapovu is comparable to "turning a deaf ear". On the other hand, a 
phrase like mannu tinna paamu has no equivalent in English to my knowledge. However, it is not 
hard to coin a new phrase "a snake snacked on dirt", working on the alliteration to give it a 
proverbial sense. There is no ambiguity in these translations. One more note on this subject. 
When I first started my website,, I did not provide the Telugu equivalents for these 
translations. Then, a young Telugu reader, who attended English medium school, suggested that 
I give the Telugu proverbs in a footnote so readers like her would be able to improve their 
Telugu language skills as well. That substantiates my claim that providing additional information 
does not hurt. 

Phrases, which require some effort to make them comprehensible in translation 

I am not enunciating a theory but giving what has been my practice and I will explain why. Some 
phrases may not be translatable while others leave some room to be creative. For instance, the 
phrase, Kondaveeti chentaadu in "A Triangle" [Veerraju. trikonam] is one such phrase. I 
translated it as Kondaveeti rope. The phrase refers to the topographical significance of the village 
Kondaveedu in Guntur district, where water is scarce and the wells are dreadfully deep. For the 
villagers of Kondaveedu, drawing water from those wells is a long and laborious task. Implicitly, 
a task compared to kondaveeti rope is long and laborious. I thought, by translating the 
translatable part, chentaadu as jute rope, a foreign reader would have a better motivation to learn 
more about the implicit meaning. Additionally, the name of the village Kondaveedu, is slightly 
different from the oblique form, Kondaveeti, (possessive case) and that is another problematic 
area for a foreign reader. If I were to leave the entire phrase as Kondaveeti chaantaadu, the 
reader is sure to miss the entire connotation. 

Untranslatable Phrases 

We have phrases and idioms that are almost untranslatable. Just translating them alone would not 
suffice to communicate the spirit of the original to the readers. Two languages of two 
diametrically opposite cultures do not lend themselves to accurate translation one hundred 
percent. Culture-specific phrases and idioms belong in this category. 

Let us take a culture-specific phrase like lempalesukonu in "A Story of a mother-in-law and a 
daughter-in-law (Bhanumati. Attaakodaleeyam). No matter how we translate it, it would be 
impossible for a foreign reader to visualize the actual scenario. I translated it as "She tapped on 
her cheeks lightly and reverently." One young writer wrote to me why I could not translate it as 
"she slapped her cheeks". My explanation is the phrase lempakaaya iccu in Telugu means 
slapping another person and in anger. On the other hand, lempalesukonu is an act by which a 
person lightly taps on his/her own cheeks, and in order to express his/her remorse. It refers to a 


socio-religious, cultural practice and apologetic in spirit. For a reader who is not familiar with 
this practice, "slapping" invokes a completely different imagery in his mind. This is not one of 
the instances I would leave to the reader to understand from the context. 

Proverbs, which have corresponding proverbs in the target language 

Proverbs or adages are time-honored, time-tested facts. They are the props that come in handy 
for a writer when the language fails or is inadequate to express himself. Proverbs often contain a 
rhyme or alliteration either to capture one's attention or as a mnemonic device. This is one aspect 
the translator must remember while translating the proverbs. When I translate, I try to bring 
about similar effect in English. That explains some of the digressions from the original in my 
translations of Telugu proverbs. The following examples illustrate my point. 

My translation for the proverb mundu nuyyi, venaka goyyi is "a well in front and a trench 
behind". In English, the corresponding proverb is, "between a rock and a hard place". 
Nevertheless, I would prefer to give a translation of the original Telugu phrase instead of using 
the English proverb. My aim is to highlight the commonalities in different cultures and perhaps 
the topography. 

Culture-specific Proverbs, which have no equivalents in the target language. 

Some proverbs, which are culture-specific in terms of beliefs and lifestyles, are equally open to 
more than one interpretation. 

I translated kadupu cincukunte kaallameeda padutundi as "You tear your guts and they fall on 
your feet". In the Telugu sentence, the subject is not stated explicitly but the verb cinchukonu is 
a reflexive, meaning one doing something to oneself. I supplied 'you' in the conditional clause 
and 'they' [the guts] in the principal clause. The translation is fairly literal and thus imparts the 
implied meaning — "when you hurt your children, in turn, it hurts you". 

Another angle in these proverbs is lack of a subject or subject without a given name. In such 
cases, it is necessary to improvise a subject for the purpose of clarification. English language will 
not permit sentences without subject as illustrated above. The translator needs to pick the correct 
subject based on the context. 

Another proverb I translated is gati leni manushulu taguvukedite matileni peddalu teerchevaaraa 
ani as "like hapless men seeking justice from brainless men". Here again, I tried to coin a new 
adage based on the original text loosely. The correct translation would be "When people without 
means went [to the court] for justice, are the persons without brains going to decide?". The 
sentence is too long, and additionally requires another word, the place where they went to. A 
short crisp sentence would make a better impression on the readers, I thought. 

Let us examine the proverbs or phrases, which are not translatable. For example, a phrase like 
adugulaku madugulottadam carries deeper cultural nuance. I think the word madugulu refers to 
madatalu (folded clothes). I understand the phrase refers to spreading a sheet for the guest of 
honor to walk on. In everyday usage, it has come to mean something similar to the red carpet 


treatment. However, I would prefer coining a new phrase as opposed to using the English phrase 
"red carpet treatment", in order to emphasize the slight differences in the two cultures. 

Distinctive and Culture-specific Phraseology 

Culture-specific phraseology requires more than the use of a dictionary to translate. For instance, 
mancimaata chesuku vaccu is an archaic phrase referring to an old custom. In the old days, poor 
brahmin women used to run what is known as poota kuulla illu, where the woman serves food 
for money in an informal setting. The phrase, mancimaata chesuku vaccu has come to mean 
discussing the food arrangements with a homeowner. Another example is vaaraalu chesukonu, 
which also refers to an erstwhile custom. It is also food arrangements young Brahmin boys 
would make with few families (seven families for seven days of the week, to be specific) while 
they pursued their education. Whenever I come across phrases like these, I would like to keep 
them in the story and explain in a footnote. That is important for the story to keep its cultural 

Other concepts peculiar to our culture are engili, antu, madi, and dishti. The corresponding 
English words, which have gained some currency, are saliva pollution [engili], touch pollution 
[antu], quarantine-like condition [madi], and evil eye [dishti]. Hopefully, one day these Telugu 
words will be incorporated into the English language. The word karma has gained currency in 
America to mean divine ordinance. In Telugu, it has several shades of meaning. Based on the 
context, I may use the term karma or translate it into English. That helps the reader to move 
forward without wasting too much time guessing what the meaning might be. 

I am aware that some writers and some readers feel that these distinctions overburden the reader 
or undercut his/her imagination. I would rather prefer to think that these concepts are important 
in setting apart the two cultures. It helps the readers to understand how these concepts play out in 
the source culture. 

I translated "sodi manishi" (Vasa Prabhavati) as village psychic with some hesitation. I am aware 
that telling sodi is not the same as predicting future by a psychic. My point is the sodi practice is 
culture-specific. There are other terms like fortuneteller, soothsayer, occultist, medium, and 
spiritualist. None of them exactly means the same as sodi manishi. When two cultures do not 
have the same practice, vocation, or lifestyle, we need to choose a term in the target language 
based on comparable practices. A psychic invokes spirits to predict future events; the sodi 
woman invokes goddesses for the same purpose. The spirits and the goddesses may not be the 
same but both are unverifiable sources. In that sense, I thought sodi woman would be 
comparable to a psychic or fortuneteller. Frankly, this is one of the instances where there would 
always be a question, no matter what word I had chosen. I chose psychic since it rolled easier on 
my tongue. Nevertheless, I was aware that the term did not import the complete cultural nuance 
and therefore I provided further explanation of the sodi tradition in the glossary at the end of the 

Culture-specific Humor 


Unquestionably, humor is hard to translate, since it is deep-rooted in culture. Bhanumati narrates 
an incident in "attaa kodaleeyam", in which she describes her mother-in-law's madi, a 
temporary, quarantine-like condition one creates for oneself. And her husband makes fun of the 
smelly pickles his mother was eating. In both the cases, from a westerner's standpoint, the son 
and the daughter-in-law were not being polite to the older woman. Thus translating the paragraph 
as is without paraphrasing is not sufficient to convey the humor in the story. 

In the same passage, the daughter-in-law also speaks facetiously about her mother-in-law sitting 
on the floor to eat and facing the wall. The narrator's reference to the Lord Narasimha in this 
context once again is hilarious for those who are familiar with the mythological character. For 
those who are not familiar with the story of Narasimha, an explanation is necessary. 

In "A Desperate Cry" (Ranganayakamma. aartanaadam), there is an episode in which the 
grandchildren would visit their grandmother, after they were informed that she was dying. As it 
turned out, she was not ready to die yet and the grandchildren seized the occasion to tease her. 
The episode has no relevance to the story, except the storyline calls for the female protagonist's 
absence from home for an extended period of time. 

In a personal letter addressed to me, the author agreed that the episode was irrelevant and gave 
me her permission to delete it at my discretion (Ranganayakamma. Personal Correspondence). I 
however chose to keep it in order to drive home a point — the free exchange of almost irreverent 
words between adults and children in a family. Grandchildren asking the grandmother whether 
she would really want to die at all, or where she kept all her money, what she was going to do 
with it, and the tone of the conversation — all would be considered rude at one level and 
entertaining at another level. This is in direct contradiction of the custom of showing respect to 
the elders by the young people. Nevertheless, it is normal in some families and the story 
highlights that point. I discussed this topic in greater detail in my book, Telugu Women Writers, 
1950-1975 (Nidadavolu.). 

English words in Telugu stories: 

Various writers use English words in Telugu stories to serve different purposes. If the English 
words are used simply as a reproduction of current colloquial style, probably, the translator may 
take them as they are and incorporate them without thinking twice. However, if it is part of the 
author's narrative technique as in the case of Racakonda Viswanatha Sastry, they need to be 
interpreted appropriately. It is necessary to examine if the author is using the English 
terminology to shift gears in the flow of the narrative or to invoke ridicule of an existing practice. 
Viswanatha Sastry uses this technique superbly. Also, if the author is simply reproducing the 
English words from the original, the translator needs to see if the actual words used in India are 
comprehensible to the global audience. For instance, "far relative" for "distant relative", "long 
hand shirt" for "long sleeve shirt" and "time pass" for "passing time" are some examples, which 
do not go very well in a translation for global audience 

Working with the Authors 


In general, my practice is to translate first line by line, then go over the translation, and make the 
necessary changes for smooth reading. In the process, I may change the order of the sentences, 
add a word or two in some places, and even move around sentences to make it readable. Then I 
send it to the author, with a note about the changes I have made. The authors suggest one or two 
changes. I would accept their suggestions, if appropriate. That has been my practice for the past 
seven and a half years. 

So far, there has been only one instance, where the author kept suggesting changes, and out of 
frustration, I decided to drop the idea of working with that writer. In short, working with writers 
has not been a problem for me. The only problem is locating the writers or copyright holders for 


To sum up, the translator needs to remember who the target audiences are. Even as we tell 
children's stories in a language intelligible to the children, we, the translators, have a moral 
obligation to honor the language behavior of the target audience. Leaving it to the readers to 
deduce the meaning from the context may work fine when the readers are from within the same 
culture. As stated at the outset, an important goal of the translations is to serve as an educational 
experience for the readers from other cultures. In that sense, we are obligated to focus on the 
cultural nuance. The reader may still choose to skip the explanations. In my experience, a 
translator is a writer also. He will draw on the diction at his command and produce a translation, 
while striving to make it appealing to the target audience. In that attempt, he may lose some of 
the native flavor of the original yet he will succeed only if he has the freedom to be creative and 
present the story in a language he is comfortable with. If the author disagrees, there is no meeting 
of the minds and there is no translation. He just moves on to the next translation. 

Source list 

Malathi, Nidadavolu. Telugu Women Writers. 1950-1975. A Unique Phenomenon in the History 
of Telugu Fiction. Madison, Wisconsin: Author, 2008. 123-136. 

Tulasi, Chaganti. "My Sister: A Classy Lady" [hundaa]. Trans. Nidadavolu Malathi. A Spectrum 
of My People: A Collection of Short Stories from Andhra Pradesh. Mumbai: Jaico Publishing 
House. 2006. 139-154. 

Prabhavati, Vasa. "The Village Psychic." Trans. Nidadavolu Malathi. A Spectrum of My People. 
Mumbai: Jaico, 2006. 283-297. 

Ventaramana. Mullapudi. "Middle Class Complex" [Janataa express]. Trans. Nidadavolu 
Malathi. A Spectrum of My People. Mumbai: Jaico, 2006. 69-102 



Kondala Rao, Ravi. "Aa sogasu vastundaa?" [Can it achieve that beauty?]. Andhra Jyothy. 
Vividha. 15 October 2003. 

Viswanatha Sastry, Rachakonda. "mogavaadu, aada manishi" [Man, Woman]. Trans. 
Nidadavolu Malathi. The Toronto South Asian Review. Summer 1987. V.7. No. 1. 1-12. Reprint. 
Rachakonda Viswanatha Sastry's Values & Other Stories. Srinivasavanam, Kuppam: Dravidian 
University, 2007. 88-103. 

Internet sources 

Krishnakumari, Nayani. "The Poet's Wife". [Kavi gaari bharya]. Trans. Nidadavolu Malathi. 3 
March 2009 . . 

Malathi, Nidadavolu. "Radha's Debt [Raadhamma baaki] by Mullapudi Venkataramana". 3 
March 2009. <> 

Rama Rao, Kalipatnam. "The Rite of Sacrifice" [yajnam]. Trans. Nidadavolu Malathi. 3 March 
2009. <> 

Ramakrishna Sastry, Malladi. "He is I", [soham]. Trans. Nidadavolu Malathi. 3 March 2009. 

Satyanarayana, Viswanatha. "The Soul Wills It" [jeevudi ishtam]. Trans. Nidadavolu Malathi. 3 
March 2009. 

Subrahmanya Sarma, Puranam. "Meaningless Union" [Anavasara dampatyam]. Trans. 
Nidadavolu Malathi. 3 March 2009. 

Other sources. 

Ranganayakamma Muppala. Personal correspondence with the author. 17 January 1983. 
Venkataramana, Mullapudi. Personal correspondence with the author. 15 February 2003. 




Stories evolve in a given culture, based on their lifestyles, and from their environment. Readers 
and critics need to analyze a story from that perspective. In practice, however, there seems to be 
two angles. Some critics seem to apply modern criteria to assess a work of fiction written long 
time back. On the otherhand, other critics believe that we will not have new insights into the 
literature of previous centuries if we had not applied new ways of reading a text of the past. Then 
the question is what is the plausible way to appreciate the fiction of the past? 

Kondaveeti Satyavati, in her article on Bhandaru Acchamamba, stated that Acchamamba Telugu 
critics dismissed Acchamamba's story, dhanatrayodasi, as "failed to meet the criteria for short 
fiction, all the story possessed all the characateristics of a good story." 

In an attempt to compare Acchamamba's story to another story by a contemporary writer, I 
started searching and stumbled on an anthology, alasina gundelu [Tired hearts] by Rachamallu 
Ramachandra Reddy. In the anthology, Ramachandra Reddy included a 43 -page essay on the 
structure in fiction, "kathaanikaa, daani silpamuu" [Short story and its structure]. Let me quote 
some of his arguments relevant to my discussion from the aforesaid essay. 

Ramachandra Reddy' s views on short story are as follows: 

I wrote these stories [in the aforesaid anthology] with a hope that they would imprint a strong 
sense of emotion on the readers' hearts. ... In fact, the entire literature is oriented towards hearts. 
There is no literature without feeling. That feeling however must not turn into a melodrama. 

One popular notion is that a story must have a 'point'. "I am not sure if there is equivalent term 
in Telugu for the word 'point'. For the present, I would call it lakshyam. A story must convey a 
truth, a moral, a principle, or a hypothesis. . . . 

In the previous century, when the story was born, its point was either a truth or a moral. That 
means it was only a concept in the mind of the writer. 

Then there is the question, What about feeling? ... The reader continues to experience the 
emotions of the characters while reading a story. Then the question we must ask is whether a 
story can be written to either invoke a feeling or convey a message exclusively?" 

Ramachandra Reddy discussed the topic at length quoting a few European writers like O' Henry 
and Katherine Mansfield and then posed the question how it was relevant to his discussion on 
hand. He stated that currently the short story in Telugu has gotten entangled in the steel arms of 
the commercial magazines, lost its original form, and been reduced to a skeleton. He further 

Because a story will inevitably contain a "feeling" in some form or other, and because nobody is 
writing at Katherine Mansfield's level now, let us limit our discussion to the point in a story. ... 


A short story must have only one point, and, characters and incidents should contribute toward 
that end, the point. 

From that perspective, Ramachandra Reddy attempted to write a story as an experiment in 
structure, an indispensable characteristic to achieve the point in the story. The author observed 
that most people in the world live a tedious, uneventful life, and most of them are women, 
understandably. Therefore, he decided to depict the life of one such woman. 

The story, mana jeevita kathalu [Stories of Our Lives], opens with the statement, "I may search 
her entire life and still find not a single incident worth writing about. How can I write a story 
without anything special in her life or lifestyle?" That is the problem for structure, says the 

Mr. Ramachandra Reddy took it as a challenge since he had never come across a story without 
point, which makes it impossible to make the story structurally strong. The closest he could think 
of was "Madame Bovary" by Gustavo Flaubert, in which Emma, the main character, lived a 
droning life. She was not without emotions. In fact, she had a fantasy in her mind, which clashed 
with her surroundings outside, leading to her mental breakdown. Her husband on the other hand 
was willing to take life as it came and so he had no problem. There was no conflict in his life. He 
was a flat character. 

Ramachandra Reddy decided to create a character similar to the husband in "Madame Bovary" in 
peddamma, the main character in "the Stories of Our Lives." Since there was no conceivable 
tension or conflict in peddamma's life, the author created two more characters, a couple living 
next door. He based his story on the responses of the couple to the dull life of peddamma. 
Readers are expected to respond to the husband/writer/narrator's anxiety to find a thrilling 
incident in the old woman's life and the wife's two-fold anxiety. She attempts to squeeze out a 
story from peddamma for the sake of her husband, and in the process, builds a bond with the old 
woman rather unwittingly. In the end, the wife sees a story in the life of peddamma but not the 
husband. Is that a comment on the way men and women think and respond to a fellow human: 
Or, is it supposed to be the way a writer and a non-writer would respond? 

In his analysis of structure, we see three perceptions-that of Ramachandra Reddy the writer, 
Ramachandra Reddy the critic, and the narrator in the story. The author and the critic explain the 
why, how and the result of writing a story without plot. The narrator within the story lives it. 
There is however some overlap, I think between the writer and the narrator. 

The author says, "Peddamma has a husband, children, and the usual events such as children's 
weddings, and the little tribulations in life, the same as everybody else ... That is a common 
denominator for almost all people. Other than that, there are no events, nothing unusual, in her 
life. She has not experienced intense pleasures or unbearable hardships. She believes that life is 
the same for everybody. Her understanding of life is so narrow." 

As I was reading this analysis, I had to stop at the last line. Suddenly it felt like the critic became 
the narrator in calling the woman's understanding of the world into question. The narrator in the 
story had the same impression from peddamma's life. However, his wife could relate to 
peddamma's account of her life. That became obvious when the wife asked her husband, "Did 
you hear peddamma's story?" There is a story for her. 

Ramachandra Reddy the writer decided to write a story about the way people around her would 
respond to peddamma's unflustered life in the absence of passion in her own life. "Others may 


react to her in any number of ways. Some may be sympathetic to her. Others may resent her 
apathy, or even be aggravated by it and become philosophical. If I could depict all these 
responses effectively, it could turn into a good story," said Ramachandra Reddy. 

There was also a comment about the names in the story. In response to the comment by another 
critic, the author said, "Somebody commented that I did not give a name to the old woman to 
imply that she is a very ordinary person, insignificant in a way. I did not think so. In fact, I did 
not give names to the other two characters in the story either. I agree that names do carry weight 
in stories but I did not find the need to do so in this story." 

I would like to add a note on this aspect in our stories. In Telugu culture, we often address people 
using relational terminology such as peddamma (granny), akka (older sister), atta (aunt( even 
when we are not related by blood. I see the term peddamma as a proper name in that context. 
Other minor characters in the story such as son and daughter are also not given names. 

Acchamamba's story, "strividya" [Women's education] is comparable to the above story in 
some ways; both the stories deal with no major heartbreaking issues or earthshaking resolutions. 
In Acchamamba's story, the point is women's education, a mode of communication between 
husband and wife, while the husband was held as political prisoner. The story illustrates the main 
problem, which is the wife's lack of reading and writing skills, and includes an elaborate 
discussion of the benefits of women's education. 

In both the stories, the incidents leading to the end are not played out or described in detail, 
which is common in our narrative technique. They are verbalized in brief statements. In 
"Women's Education," the wife says she would have her younger brother read and write the 
letters on her behalf. In "The Stories of Our Lives," peddamma says she was married, her son 
and daughter were married and so on. Each incident was rounded up in one-liners or a few lines 
at best. 

I thought it would be interesting to study the two stories written in juxtaposition, using the 
criteria, Mr. Ramachandra Reddy had identified. 

The story, "Hard to Believe" brings up yet another question regarding the element of reality in 
fiction. Can a reader suspend his disbelief in the illusory figment temporarily and enjoy a good 
story just for its point of view? Is it possible to sift truth from fiction and apply one's mind to the 
underlying argument in the story? I liked this story for its narrative technique. While the author 
addresses a potent issue, a social malignancy, the technique she adopted to tell the story raises 
questions in regard to its authenticity. Or does it? 

Souris' story, "A Memory" maybe construed as one more romance fiction or a brief peek into a 
given moment in human psyche based on how we look at it. Some readers may perceive this 
story as an illustration of a woman's heartbreak. I am inclined to see it as a stop, a turning point, 
in one's lifespan. The key point is, or so it seems, when she asks, "When did all this — the son-in- 
law, the daughter, and the children-happen?" It would appear that she blocked out, knowingly or 
unknowingly a considerable portion of her life between the kamini flowers and the grown up 
children. Strange as it may sound, I have known of male retirees ask the same question after a 
long period of their public life, "Where are the little children?" The point is we all get carried 
away by one preoccupation in our lives (the woman in the story enjoyed her husband's wealth 
and social status for the time being) and then return to what captured our hearts in our adolescent 


Souris' father, Gudipati Venkata Chalam, spent major part of his life on his radical writings, 
advocating sexual freedom for women and later settled down in Arunachalam for peace. I could 
envisage him asking himself the same question, "What happened in the past several years?" 



My friends and readers of my site,, often ask me why I am so bent on choosing stories 
from the past four or five decades as opposed to the contemporary fiction. I think the most valid 
reason is obvious from the selections discussed here. 

Basically, I started this site to introduce Telugu fiction and culture to the readers from other 
cultures. My selections of stories for translation are based on this criterion. However, when we 
translate our stories for global audience, we need to explain the characteristics peculiar to our 
culture. Some of our stories written in modern times contain elements which defy the west 
criteria of a good story and yet accepted by Telugu readers. The only way we can explain them is 
by making allowance as features of oral tradition. 

Traditionally, in the past, poets were considered despots (nirankuso kavayah). They were free to 
write whatever they felt like writing and in a form and language they deemed fit. They also 
allowed the readers the same freedom. They provided a venue to interpret, to build on, and, even 
to create a new story. In other words, the authors aimed to provoke the readers into thinking in 
their own way. 

In the oral narrative, the narrator addresses a live audience. Usually, they all gather at a specific 
place, away from other distractions of everyday cares and chores, and are presumably in a 
receptive mood. The narrator will have the opportunity to use visual tools such as gestures, and 
draw on local and immediate occurrences in the community for props. In print, most of these 
details need to be replaced by other modes of illumination. 

Strange as it may sound, most of the writers have not left the oral tradition behind completely. In 
this essay, I attempted to highlight some of the elements of the oral tradition that have crept 
possibly inadvertently into the stories written in modern times. 

The technique of storytelling is peculiar to the writer. No two persons talk alike and no two 
writers tell the same story in the same words. That is the reason we have so many stories on the 
same topic. Each writer presents a new perspective and contributes to the commonality of 
understanding. And, possibly, no two readers appreciate the same story and grasp the same 
message from a given story. 

In Andhra Pradesh, the print became a medium for disseminating fiction just about a century 
ago. Custom dies hard in any walk of life and storytelling is no exception. While numerous 
experiments are introduced in rendering fiction in print, some traits of the traditional narrative 
style are lingering on. 

The freedom for expression for each writer to write in his or her own style continued well into 
the fifties and the sixties. In recent times, however, many Telugu writers are anxious to adapt to 
the western mode of thinking and fit into a formula — a specific type of hero, a particular kind of 
problem, and almost predictable ending. Unlike in the past, now the publishers and the editors of 
weekly and monthly magazines are dictating the terms, and even modifying the text submitted 
for publication. 


Evaluating Telugu stories using western critiquing tools started probably in the latter half of the 
twentieth century in Andhra Pradesh. It has become a norm for Telugu critics to quote western 
fiction writers as benchmarks for good stories. Workshops and seminars are being held to teach 
story-writing technique. In the process, the elements peculiar to Telugu fiction are being ignored. 

In "The Soul Wills It" (Satyanarayana. Jeevudi ishtam), the story illustrates man and woman not 
as two entities but one, and, the pain suffered by the woman as suffered by man through the body 
of the woman. In terms of technique, the author used several forms. It started out with a 
description of the location and the characters. And then, in some parts, it was presented in the 
form of direct report, and, in one place, a dialogue was also introduced as in a play. Is this 
technique acceptable in modern stories? I am not sure. As I said at the outset, the author has the 
freedom to present his story in a manner that is befitting to his mode of thinking. Will that 
confuse the reader? I guess it does unless the reader takes the trouble to transpose himself into 
the story. 

The story, "A Piece of Ribbon" (Beenadevi) is a classic example of carrying some of the 
elements of oral tradition. 

The story opens with a small group of friends gathered on the lawn of a rich doctor to spend a 
leisurely evening. The main theme to be understood from the title is that it is a story of a poor 
girl desperately longing for a piece of ribbon. After a few minutes of casual chitchat and 
lighthearted exchange of jokes, the main topic is introduced with "Oh that reminds me 
which is comparable to the preamble in a harikatha [Stories told by professional singers]. The 
casualness with which the main story opened belies the grimness or gravity of the core theme 
and the poor girl aching for a piece of ribbon for her hair. The tribulations of the doctor at the 
turn of events — first, his satisfaction of being the benefactor, later his failure to deliver, his 
insatiable thirst for revenge and, at the end, the punishment he had been handed down for his 
mindless act are all delineated in great detail. 

If we apply the western criteria to this story, we can see it lacks unity and tightness. Halfway 
through, the story turns into the problems and tribulations the doctor had suffered; it is not about 
the little girl and her disappointments or hardships anymore. On the other hand, judged by the 
stamp of approval by the Telugu readers on this story, we have to assume that the Telugu readers 
and critics accepted this flaw [?] and appreciated the story as much for its traditional elements as 
for the core message as evinced in the title. That is also evident from the award (Racakonda 
Viswanatha Sastry award) the story has received in 1999. Strangely, the award came 34 years 
after its original publication in 1965. 

Readers familiar with our oral tradition are accustomed to ignoring embellishments and going 
straight to the core idea. For majority of Telugu readers, this is a story of a poor girl who could 
not afford a piece of ribbon. To me, this story seems to be more of an ego trip of the doctor (a 
prototype of our social reformers?) who is riding high on his generous nature rather than the poor 
child's pathetic economic conditions. Against the backdrop of his self-indulgent journey into his 
past, the little girl's agony fails to impress the discerning readers. 


The story also includes a bit of everyday humor (wife teasing husband for instance) and 
irreverent comments by friends, intended to establish the environment. Once again, they are 
irrelevant to the little girl's story and undermine the gravity of her situation. 

One of the significant features in a live performance is the delivery of dialogue. In a live 
performance, the narrator is a ventriloquist. He performs the characters on the stage and the 
audience will have no problem recognizing which dialogue has been spoken by which character. 
In "The Ants," (Nayani Krishnakumari. cheemalu), the story is narrated as a series of ponderings 
in the protagonist's head. They include not only the ponderings of the past events but also his 
present responses to the past events. In print, in the Telugu original, the sentences have been put 
in double quotes. In such instances, probably in the English version, italics would be helpful. If 
this story were narrated in the presence of a live audience, the audience would be able to sense 
that the protagonist was addressing the other characters only in his mind. In print, this needs 
further illumination. 

Another important element in this story is the use of metaphor. The story revolves round the 
main character's ego, or, rather his inability to take charge of his life. Ant is a metaphor for a 
small, insignificant life on one hand and a symbol of communal strength on the other. This story 
draws on both these aspects. On one hand, the ants as a group could drag a piece of meat, bigger 
than themselves, into their hole. On the other, the protagonist sees them as his adversaries, the 
people who dragged him down, and so he would crush them under his foot, a symbolic victory 
for him. In translation, this again needed further clarification. 

Long, meandering sentences with adjectival phrases and nonfinite verbs are very common in 
Telugu fiction, particularly in the stories written a few decades back. This is interesting in the 
context of recent trends — courses being taught in short story workshops (Ramulu, pp. 20-21), 
where students are advised to write short sentences. 

The first sentence in the "Meaningless Union" (Puranam Subrahmanya Sarma) runs to fourteen 
lines, filled with adjectival phrases and nonfinite verbs. The text reads roughly as follows: 

When Srihari got off the train in Howrah station with a suitcase full of suffocating ideals; saw 
the buses running in all directions like rows of ants; and, as he walked with renewed enthusiasm 
at the thought that this is my country, this is our wealth; as he saw the pure, cool, ennobling 
Ganga river flowing through the heart of the city peacefully, which was shimmering with a touch 
of the golden rays from the sun, the same Srihari walked ostentatiously, after going around the 
offices in Garden Reach; as he was worn out after realizing the worthlessness of his 
recommendation letters; gritted his teeth, ate puffed peas and drank water, trying to fret away all 
night; caught by the police and beaten with their canes; cursed the system; underwent hardships; 
went around dragging his suitcase; accepted the "invitation from the Calcutta jute mills"; the city 
that inhaled people in the morning and exhaled the live corpses in the evening; Srihari moved on, 
cursing the country. 

Apparently, the sentence (paragraph) makes no sense unless rephrased in translation. I moved the 
last part (the principal sentence) to the beginning of the paragraph for the purpose of lucidity and 


also split it into several short sentences. Once again, as in the case of " A Piece of Ribbon," this 
long sentence has not been a problem for Telugu readers. 

Unlike the adjectival phrases, a long sentence with several non-finite verbs such as chuusi [after 
seeing or having seen] and adigi [after asking or having asked] implies several sequential actions 
and are often used to bring about a specific effect, a sense of urgency. 

One such example to quote is from the story "Madras to Tirupati" (Malathi). The nonfinite verb 
forms were used to register the impatience of the travelers in a bus. The passengers in the bus 
were waiting for the driver to start the bus. The driver, instead, 

. . . opened the door, got off the bus, closed the door, walked straight to the tea stall, took out the 
wallet from his pocket, took some money, put the wallet back in his pocket, bought coffee, drank 
the coffee, returned the cup, walked back to the bus, took out a matchbox from his pocket, took a 
beedi, lit the beedi, held it between his teeth tight, opened the bus door, sat in his seat, checked 
the door one more time to see it was shut tight, and started the engine. 

The passengers in the bus were waiting for that moment. They all heaved a long sigh of relief in 
unison as if it was pre-planned. The narrative is supposed to invoke an imagery of the passengers 
watching each and every move of the driver. Another notable linguistic variation is the Telugu 
phases contain two to three words as opposed to two to eight words in English. It was meant to 
creating a sense of growing impatience in the passengers. Unlike in the earlier instance, in this 
case, changing the order of phrases is not necessary. 

Flow of thought in Telugu stories is not always consistent with the practice in English. It will be 
confusing if the story is translated as is. A paragraph from an essay, "non-duality" (Puranam 
Subrahmanya Sarma) is a case in point. 

[An author] Writing the story for whom? For himself or the public? Can he vibrate the world 
through his writing or is [he] just using [it] to rub his personal woes on the world? Does he 
understand how strenuous writing a story is? If an author tries only to show off his brains to the 
world, readers resent him. Readers lose themselves in a good story and get carried away. A story 
must have a purpose. After finishing the story, a reader must be jolted into thinking — this should 
be like this or that. 

In this passage, several views are stated, sounding disjointed at times. At the risk of repeating 
myself, I must say that the author's views are often clear to the readers knowledgeable in our 
culture. For others, the translator needs to rephrase/reorganize the structure. 

To sum up, Telugu story has rich literary history. The narrative technique, including digression 
and several layers in a given story, the embedded stories, and the linguistic peculiarities, 
including meandering lines and addressing the readers as if they were present in person — may 
render the stories hard to follow yet fascinating from the perspective of cultural studies. It will be 
educational for the readers willing to go to that extra mile and appreciate them for the details the 
stories provide regarding our culture and lifestyles. 



Ramulu, B.S. kathala badi. Jagatyal, Andhra Pradesh: Vishala Sahita Academy, 1998 

Venkatasubbaiah, Vallampati. Katha silpam. Hyderabad: Visalandhra Publishing House, 1995 

Narayana, Singamaneni, Comp. Telugu kathakulu, kathana reethulu. V.3. Hyderabad: 
Visalandhra Publishing House, 2001. 

Venugopal, N. katha sandarbham. Hyderabad: Swetcha Sahiti, 2000 



This is a question I have been grappling with for sometime. Before I go into the definition of a 
good story, let us assume for the sake of argument that different parts of a story appeal to 
different readers. Secondly, the readers with different cultural backgrounds perceive the same 
story from yet other perspectives. 

For the purpose of this article, I would classify the readers into two categories — the participant 
and the critical. 

The participant readers interact with the story on a personal level, identify themselves with a 
character, a situation or the conflict in the story and participate in the course of events. Their 
comments may be simple statements like I've been there, I know what you mean. Or, they dig a 
little deeper and offer suggestions such as what a given character could have done differently or 
what else the author could have provided to resolve the conflict. For instance, in "Moral 
Support" by Anisetty Sridhar, why was Gopalam so stubborn? Why could he not get off his 
moral high horse and do something to please his wife and parents? Did he not have a moral 
obligation to his family? At another level, the readers may put some distance between 
themselves and the story yet react like participants. They see the story as a story, a figment of the 
author's imagination, and at the same time want more from it. They raise questions like why 
Gopalam could not see that buying goods at a cheaper rate and selling for profit was neither 
illegal nor unethical. That is businesslOl. That is basically the rule we all are living by in our 
present day world. For some readers Gopalam' s arguments are in tune with his character. For 
others, it is a flaw in the portrayal of his character. 

The critical readers distance themselves further and study the story objectively. They look into 
the structure, technique, characterization, diction and the message. At times, it is possible for the 
critical reader to get carried away in his critical thinking and lose sight of the author's purpose. 

Taking the earlier example, Gopalam, like all the idealists in real life, lost sight of the realities in 
life and failed to see the setbacks in his mode of thinking. Whether Gopalam's character was 
depicted well or not depends on what the reader considers a good characterization. This is only 
one example of how various views could emanate from the same story. 

Let us get back to the topic under discussion. What is a good story? For me, two pieces fell in 
place automatically — the cultural nuance and the insights as presented by the Telugu elitists. I 
reviewed some books and articles written by Telugu writers in the past three decades. Based on 
my readings, the essential components seem to be the same as in the case of world literatures. 
The list included the opening, the development of a plot or conflict through a series of incidents, 


the resolution or the ending, the technique, the message or the author's point of view, 
characterization, unity or structure, and author's command of language. Using some of these 
elements as touchstones, I tried to examine some of the stories published on 

Broadly speaking, when a person sees or hears about an event, he responds to the scene 
emotionally and feels a strong, innate urge to relate it to others. That is the motivation to write a 
story. But how to start it is another story. 

The title: Not that authors always start with a title. However, I would like to start with the title 
since that is what captures the reader's eye at first. The story, " Diary " (Vasundhara. Kukka) is a 
good example. The original title in Telugu was "Kukka" [Dog]. For Telugu people, the term 
"dog" may invoke an image of a sick, stray dog eating garbage on the streets. For the western 
audience, dog is a domestic animal, man's best friend, and the impression on the reader's mind is 
not as revolting as that of Indian readers. I wrote to the author, and we both agreed to change it to 
"Diary" in the English version. The term diary raises curiosity since a diary allows the readers to 
peek into somebody else's private thoughts. The very first lines tell us that it is a peek into a 
child's mind. The child's use of dog as a metaphor to make his statement is even more 
interesting which was the basis for the original title, "Kukka." 

The second title that caught my attention is "He is I" (Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry. Soham.). The 
phrase, soham, taken from the upanishads, refers to an individual identifying himself with the 
Supreme Soul through a long and rigorous process of contemplation and reflection. The title for 
this story is open for interpretation. I had a hard time interpreting it and contacted some of my 
friends, writers and the author's son, Malladi Narasimha Sastri. Narasimha Sastri commented 
that the title meant, "I am part of God because he stays within me, meaning I love and worship 
God and when he is within me, I cannot abuse my own body. I must respect myself and in turn 
respect others"[ll. 

For some reason, I fail to see the discussion between the young man and the protagonist at end as 
leading to this realization. The young man's description of his experience at Rattamma's house 
was left to the reader's imagination. Why did the author leave out this particular, apparently 
crucial, incident out of his narrative? Was it the author's intent to provoke the reader into 
thinking? Or, did the author imply we all have our share of the inexplicable in our lives, and we 
all live at random? Is this a strength or weakness in the story? Yet the story caught my attention 
only because of the title. Was that the author's plan in choosing this title? 

My understanding is, the story opens and ends with the young man and so I assume he is the 
protagonist. Since most of the story is narrated by the second protagonist, Swamiji, the young 
man possibly has felt a connection with Swamiji. At the end, after Swamiji returns to his wife, 
the young man could have said, "That is my story. He is I." The use of first person, reflexive 
pronoun tanu in the Telugu original is significant. In Telugu, tanu indicates that the views are 
expressed from the perspective of the speaker, tanu, an equivalent of I. Thus, the connotation 
appears to be that the story is not about one individual but about exploring a universal truth. The 
title, an aphorism from the upanishads, also seems to indicate that the drifting away of one 
person for a while and returning home is a part of male psyche or human nature. 


The title "The Drama of Life" (Madhurantakam Rajaram. Jeevana prahasanam) is also open for 
discussion. Madhurantakam Narendra, the author's son and a writer in his own right, pointed out 
that the term prahasanam (part of the original title, "jeevana prahasanam") meant burlesque or 
farce as opposed to the term I used.J3J_ I however felt that, if I used the term burlesque or farce, 
the implicit irony and the satire are apparent for the native speakers but not for the English- 
speaking audience. I think a term like farce diminishes the intensity particularly because the 
sarcasm is lost in the translation and for those who are not familiar with the culture, the term 
drama conveys the gravity of the conflict the performer, Harinarayana Sarma, was grappling 

Opening scene: Different writers open the story at different points in their narrative. Some stories 
begin and continue sequentially while others start in the middle or at the end and go back to the 

The opening lines in the "Primeval Song," (Maharshi. once upon a time) take us to the good old 
days of oral tradition. It is a song. It is about the mystical and magical times. The first paragraph 
depicts a luring scene only to highlight how far we have come from that heartening time to the 
disheartening present. 

In "Illusion," (Racakonda Viswanatha Sastry. Maaya), the story opens with a shrewd, seasoned 
lawyer lecturing on the stark realities of law practice to a junior lawyer, naive and fresh from law 
school. The senior lawyer's crude and abrasive presentation makes the reader want to know what 
the junior lawyer would discover at the end. In both the stories, the opening scenes set the mood 
for the reader as in a play. The opening paragraph is a brief statement of what to expect. 

The development/unfolding of a plot or conflict: Incidents in a story are like building blocks. 
Each block reveals a little of the story, building readers' curiosity, satisfying it partly and then 
creating more curiosity, keeping him wondering what next. The incidents add to the length of a 
story, although that is not the purpose. While some stories include only two or three incidents 
and bring to a close, other stories build the conflict through several incidents, and let the story 
evolve with a strong base and bring it to a head. Possibly the magnitude of an issue — the central 
theme — plays a role in the number of incidents the author plans to include. In the longer stories, 
the incidents contribute immensely towards recreating the milieu. The result is two-fold. For 
those who are familiar with the culture, it is nostalgic and for those who are not, it helps to 
appreciate not only the story but also the culture. The more the details are the clearer the setting 
is. For instance, in the "Primeval Song," the incidents are straightforward and, actually, traverse 
the bounds of time and space. A curious baby monkey walks through several experiences only to 
return to the forest where she finds her home and her identity. The allegory format confirms its 
primordial nature. It is something readers could relate to anywhere anytime. 

In the" Drama of Life" the author recreates the village atmosphere to an astounding degree. The 
story moves systematically from the villagers' appreciation of tradition to modern ways, and 
rearranging their priorities. The story delineates meticulously the scenes in a carefully 
orchestrated fashion. The very first line tells the readers that it is about a performance. The 
village chief, Naidu, has been impressed by the moving performance by the traditional narrator, 
his originality and creativity. Each incident or episode — the description of the village, the 


customary celebration of the Mahabharata yajnam, Naidu's zealous references to numerous 
episodes in the Mahabharatam, and the manner in which he extended his invitation to the 
performer — is filled with charming minutiae. For me, this was one of the hardest stories to 
translate. I however thought it was worth the effort since the story provided so much of the life in 
our villages and the changes that had been taking place in the attitude of people and society. 

The first half of the story includes several incidents leading to the conflict. The second set of 
incidents leads to the denouement or resolution, needed in order to bring about a satisfactory 
experience in the reader' mind. In "The Drama of Life," the detailed descriptions of several 
gambling stalls — from the games with small bets to the games with high stakes which are a 
ruination of the local families, leading to the final catastrophe (breaking the heart of the 
traditional performer) — serve that purpose. 

The Conflict: The conflict is the pivotal point in a story. In "The Man Who Never Died," it is the 
impending death. The protagonist was willing to compromise his values and cut down a 40-year 
old tree and ruin a 30-year old friendship in the process. Why we fear death and why we would 
want to live forever are the questions for which we have no answers. But can we do anything to 
conquer death and live forever? The story illustrates how the fear of death is fed by the people 
around us. 

There is a subplot in "The Man Who Never Died,", that is the friendship between Appanna and 
Markandeyulu. Felling the tree has a symbolic significance for both of them for different reasons 
though. For Appanna it was a blow to their friendship. For Markandeyulu it was a life-saving 
event. But their disagreements overlap and Markandeyulu does everything in his power to save 
Appanna's life. This part of our culture, the interpersonal relationship that defies the caste and 
class distinction, is rarely presented in Indian fiction, translations or original, outside India. It is 
also interesting to see that, in this and a few other stories, the illiterate people from the lower 
strata of our society are presented as instrumental in making the educated persons see the light of 
the day. 

The end wraps up and reveals the author's point of view. That is the simplest statement in any 
good story. Some readers felt that the ending in "Illusion" was left much to be desired. Bhaskara 
Rao, Australia, commented that the ending fell flat. [41 

My understanding is that the central theme in the "Illusion" is our botched up court system. The 
story is about the failed system as perceived by Muthelamma, based on her experience with the 
courts. The senior lawyer in the opening scene expresses his disillusionment with the system in 
scathing and unequivocal language, e.g. comparing the lawyers to the foxes hanging in the 
graveyards. Later Muthelamma, working class, illiterate woman, fires away a volley of questions 
and even challenges the junior lawyer to prove her wrong. Her speech is considered one of the 
most powerful speeches in Telugu fiction. The author created a rebel-victim in Muthelamma who 
was betrayed by the system and who had come to understand that the only way to stay out of jail 
was to play along. That was the revelation, a poignant point, for the junior lawyer to face. At the 
end, Muthelamma rises to a level where she could even be patronizing, "You did good. I was 
there. I saw it. You shook them [the police] up," she tells the junior lawyer. I wonder how many 
readers smiled at this twist, this reversal of role-playing. To me, it looks like the author has 


succeeded in bringing the illusion — what the system claims to do, what it actually does and how 
the people are betrayed by the system — into bold relief. 

At the outset, I mentioned that some readers would ask why the author did not give us more 
details. My question is, is it necessary to summarize his point of view? Does the author have an 
obligation to answer all the questions on the topic he had chosen to write about? Would that not 
erase the difference between an essay and a story? Personally, I feel that it is the author's 
privilege to decide what he wants to tell and and how much. 

The story, " Frostbite " (Malathi. Manchudebba) revolves around the female protagonist's 
silence. The readers would continue to read the story looking for the reasons for her silence. In 
that sense, the story ended when she broke her silence. However, the one question that has 
confounded me at the time and always is why do people hurt others and often for no good 
reason. So, I continued the story, killed the protagonist in the process, and went on until I could 
raise the question no more. Perhaps readers can tell if the story should have ended when the 
protagonist broke the silence. 

Among the other elements of a good story are technique, characterization, diction, structure, and 
the author's perception of the society he is living in. I do not intend to go into all these 
components but only some that are relevant to my selections for my site. 

Satya Pappu, an avid reader, commented that her general response to the stories of Malladi had 
always been one of satisfaction and contemplation. That kind of satisfaction and contemplation is 
possible only when the author is skillful in his delivery and the reader allows to lose himself in 
the flow of the story. Any one element in the story — a character, an incident, the diction, a figure 
of speech, a proverb, the setting, which is normally ignored or overlooked, can suddenly pop up 
in the reader's mind and bring about a revelation. It is for this reason, stories that rush to the end 
without establishing the conflict and resolution sufficiently leave the reader dissatisfied. 

The story, "Woman's Wages" is a case in point. The conflict — the disparity between a woman's 
wages and a man's wages — is the core issue in this short, short story. The protagonist, Naidu, 
raises the question why the woman should pay the same fare for a ride in a bus as the males 
when she was not paid the same wages for her labor as a man was paid. And the story ended with 
the question. For the readers, the unanswered question is what happened next? If I were to 
develop a story around this incident, probably, I would include a few more incidents. Let us for 
the moment assume that Naidu protested vehemently, stood in front of the bus, insisted for a fair 
price for the ticket corresponding to the woman's wages. The passengers naturally would take 
sides, and the driver would be in a dilemma — whether to make a special allowance for the 
woman or run over the man in front of the bus. Then we have a story. Then there is a room for 
the readers to empathize, room for a piece of social history and for a story to go beyond the 
immediate moment. But, it also looks like I am contradicting myself here. I have stated earlier 
that it is the author's privilege to tell only what he wants to tell and how much. 

Narration: The story "He is I" was a difficult one to translate for me due to its complex structure. 
There are two narrators besides the author. The story opens with tanu but most of the story was 
narrated by Swamiji. At times, it was also presented as a conversation between these two 


characters; Swamiji narrated the story to tanu, the young man. At times, the author narrated the 
story, referring to the other two as they. There are also instances where the actual incident was 
left to the imagination of the reader. For instance, the young man's experience in Rattamma's 
house was not described in detail. Swamiji's comments seem to indicate that the young man had 
the experience Swamiji had been craving for. Or, was it only the Swamiji's interpretation of the 
young man's unrecorded account? 

I showed my translation to some of my American friends. To my surprise, they were not as 
baffled as I was. Is it possible I was reading too much into the story because of my cultural 
background? Or, was it the author's intention to force the readers to see that we do not get all the 
answers always, and that we live at random? 

Characterization: Creating believable characters is part of good writing. Depicting a character 
does not necessarily mean providing a physical description of the character. Sripada 
Subrahmanya Sastry is highly regarded for his character portrayal, particularly, strong female 
characters. The story, "Moments before Boarding the Plane", is developed with extraordinary 
flair in the form of a dialogue between a queen and a chief in her husband's court. The chief, 
because of his long-standing association with the family, becomes a friend, confidante, protector 
and acts almost like a brother to the queen. They address each other as brother and sister. The 
dialogues written in simple, everyday language of the ordinary people, and are simply 
captivating. The important factor here is that the reader would have to imagine the characters 
only from their dialogues carried out in second person. 

This kind of characterization however is not common. Often, readers envisage the characters 
from their actions, author's description of them, and the comments made by other characters. 
The incidents and characterization are interdependent. 

Technique: Each writer develops his own technique. In a way, the writer is the technique as far 
as his writing goes. In addition to the elements discussed so far, the technique includes idiom, the 
author's knowledge of his own culture, his awareness of the societal norms, and his ability to 
pull them together to make that one indelible impression on the reader's mind. 

Most readers can identify a writer from his style. Style is one of the elements that does not lend 
itself for translation easily. For instance, here is a line from " Marigolds ". 

buddideepam cheta pucchuku aa guddivelugulo chukkallaati kallato bikkubikkumantoo 
choostondi Kamalabala. 

The closest translation I could come up with is "She sat there, with her starry eyes, flickering 
furtively in the dim light from the wick lamp she was holding, slouched over the flower bed and 
kept staring at them.." 

The original lines are poetic. The alliteration is striking. The translation is pale compared to the 
original. The poetic quality is lost. The word count in the translation is three times the original, 
which speaks for the author's skill. It is this poetic quality in his stories that will not allow the 
reader to skip lines and rush to the end. 


Another example of a unique style is the references to the stage performers of the mid-twentieth 
century in the story, "He is I." For those native speakers who had enjoyed stage plays in the past, 
the references are gratifying. Swamiji says, "she [his wife] is like Purushottam in his role as 
Chitrangi on the stage." This analogy is strange to me. Purushottam was a male actor, who 
apparently was known for his female roles. Did the author intentionally compare his wife to a 
male actor playing a female role? Did the author expect the reader to take it as his observation of 
the male psyche? Human nature? Or, was it meant to show the author's appreciation of the 

Notably, writers would like to draw such parallels whenever the occasion supports it, and in an 
attempt to evoke the nuance in the mind of the readers. Would the stories read the same without 
these references to the classics and performing artists? For the native speakers, it is a bonding 
experience. For foreigners, probably, the story is easier to follow without these references. 
However, these details do serve a purpose; they provide an opportunity to understand the culture 
a little better. 

Author's point of view: Whenever a story is written, a point of view is expressed. What 
specifically that point of view is a moot point. As mentioned at the beginning, different readers 
relate to different aspects in the story and different critics see different viewpoints. The story 
" Choices " (Chaganti Somayajulu. empu) provides a platform for different viewpoints. 

The story was first published in 1945. At the time, most of the literature was focused on the 
middle class issues — the hopes, the dreams, the aspirations, the fears and frustrations of the 
middle class at the time. When the working class characters were depicted, they were depicted as 
victims of either the system or the centuries old tradition, which meant depicting only 
stereotypical images. The author, Somayajulu depicted the hopes, the dreams, and the family 
values of the beggar community, that they would not be any different from the other human 
beings in the upper classes. Daskhinamurthy, a noted writer and critic, commented that, "Their 
[the beggars'] philosophy was that all the beggar girls must invariably look for and find only 
blind men to marry"(498). 

Chaganti Tulasi, the author's daughter and a well4aiown writer, offered the following 
explanation: "The story, "Empu" was published in ARASAM special issue, September 1945, and 
that was 58 years ago. But the situation of arranging a marriage for one's daughter has not 
changed much. Though ChaSo [the author] took his characters and life from beggars it is about 
the fundamentals of economics of all communities, rich and poor alike. The richest man's 
philosophy is also the philosophy of the poorest. Chaso wrote a small keynote sentence in the 
story - musilaadi upanyaasam mushti lokaaaniki upanishattu [The old man's speech is an 
upanishad for the beggars' community]. Here mushti lokam has an inner meaning besides the 
meaning 'the beggars world.' The word mushti is used as a derogative term for the entire human 
community. In your translation, the second meaning has not been conveyed. It tells about the 
panhandlers community only. Fathers, daughters, would-be son-in-laws are all alike in all 

Themes: Themes include all the aspects discussed so far. Therefore, there is not much to say 
about it. I agree that a good writer can write a story almost about anything. However for the 


purpose of my website, I am looking for themes which are commonly ignored or overlooked, 
stories that throw light on cultural peculiarities, and stories that deal with human nature unique to 
Telugu people. 

Language: Diction is illustrative of the author's command of figures of speech, knowledge of 
traditional values, symbols, epithets, proverbs and the ability to suffuse the story with native 

Sripada Subrahmanya Sastry and Racakonda Viswanatha Sastry are often quoted as two writers 
who could present dialogues with the sharpness of a knife (Dakshinamurthy. 339). A famous 
poet, Sri Sri. stated that Muthelamma's speech in the story "Illusion" belonged in the world's 
greatest literatures. [61 Metaphors and proverbs are powerful ingredients of our socio-cultural 
history. Most of our writers draw on the characters from ancient literature for what the characters 
stand for in the perception of the public. A writer need not believe in the Lord Rama as god to 
use the name as a symbol for an ideal man. In the story, " Reform ", the author, known for her 
Marxist ideology, describes the state of mind of the couple at the end as "two persons lost in 
dharma yuddham." The phrase dharma yuddham refers to the Great War in the epic 
Mahabhharata fought in the name of justice. The reference invokes an image in the reader's mind 
of a battle fought for a just cause and lost. 

On a different note, I need to mention the comments I have received from my American friends. 
One of them said that the long names were like roadblocks; they would not let the reader move 
forward freely. I am aware that foreign names are hard to remember for any reader and long 
names are the hardest. However, the names are part of characterization. They add considerably to 
the narrative. Unlike parents, the writers are in a position to give names suitable for their 

Finally, please note that this article is not an attempt to offer guidelines for writing a good story 
but to bring up some of the topics for discussion and to show what I am looking for in my 
selections for stories on my web site, I have tried to point out what captures my 
imagination and by extension what I like to publish on my website. I hope to publish more 
stories by more writers rather than more stories of one writer and, thereby, create an awareness 
of the widest range of Telugu culture among English-speaking audience. 




Before I discuss three most celebrated humor writers in modern Telugu literature, let me indulge 
in a personal story. Sometimes I try to impress my daughter, who is born and raised in America, 
with our Telugu humor. I tell her a Telugu joke and she laughs, hehehe. I doubt if she got it. So, I 
ask her, "Are you laughing because you found it funny or because I thought it was funny." She 
turns to me, squints, "both." 

Humor has its time and place. What is funny for us Telugu people may not be funny for others. 
As they say in America, if you slip on a banana peel, it is a tragedy but if someone else slips and 
falls, it is hilarious. That is not the case in Telugu homes, not until sixties at least. We laugh at 
ourselves much the same way as at others. 

In the twentieth century, there are three literary giants in Telugu humor writing. They are 
Munimanikyam Narasimha Rao, Mullapudi Venkataramana and Bhanumati Ramakrishna, I have 
grown up with. By mid-forties, Munimanikyam Narasimha Rao was already an established 
writer, Mullapudi Venkataramana started making his name in the early fifties. Chronologically, 
Bhanumati Ramakrishna was a contemporary of Venkataramana but started writing fiction in the 
sixties. All the three writers showcased the laughter in Telugu homes as never before. 

Bhanumati mentioned that she was inspired by Narasimha Rao's Kantham kathalu (Stories of 
Kantham, the narrator's wife), published in 1944. She also mentioned that Mullapudi 
Venkataramana had encouraged her. Interestingly, Mullapudi Venkataramana dedicated his 
anthology of short stories, Radha and Gopalam (1965), to Bhanumati Ramakrishna. Her Attagari 
Kathalu was published in 1966. 

Regarding themes, I am not aware if Narasimha Rao had written about any topics other than 
familial relationships. Bhanumati wrote a few stories, about five or six I believe, depicting tragic 
situations in life. Mullapudi Venkataramana had written about almost every aspect - politics, 
society, entertainment (movies), and children, and also critiques. His latest work is an 
autobiographical work, kothi kommachi in his own style. 

In the anthology, "Kantham stories" (Munimanikyam Narasimha Rao. Kantham kathalu), a 
middle-aged couple and the ordinary, everyday incidents in their lives are portrayed. One of the 
story, nenu, Kantham (Kantham and I) illustrates the husband's miserable experience with eating 
out and wife's savvy handling of the situation. Most of the humor comes from the narrator's 
descriptions of his self-styled ego. 


Humor in Kantham's story comes from everyday events and interaction between husband and 
wife. They do care about each other, yet the husband could not take the apparent disrespect from 
his wife. To me it seems to be a social comment on the irrational behavior of men and their ego 

While in "Kantham and I", the narrator was depicted as being an egotist, conscious of his status 
as husband, in "Radha and Gopalam", the husband and wife behave like friends, teasing each 
other for the fun of it. This change in the attitudes of the couples is notable; it reflects the change 
that has taken place from the previous generation to the current generation in familial 
relationships in the society. 

Mullapudi Venkataramana has successfully created humorous instances using "debt" as core 
theme in several stories, including a series, "Runaananda lahari", in which his play upon words is 
matchless. In the story under discussion, "Radha's debt", Gopalam surprises his wife by asking 
her to pay back a loan she had never promised, much less aware that she owed him money. Soon 
enough she turns around, catches up with him, and proves he owed her too. The theme is 
frivolous on the surface. To me, the story reflects the amicable relationship between husband and 

In "Radha's debt", (Mullapudi Venkataramana. Radhamma baki) the couple, Radha and 
Gopalam, are newlyweds, and between the two, Radha is the level-headed one. Gopalam acts 
like a juvenile. Gopalam's insistence that Radha owed him for the expenses he had incurred to 
get her attention before their marriage itself is humorous. 

"A Story of a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law" (Bhanumati. attaakodaleeyam) is woven 
around attagaru (mother-in-law) with kodalu (daughter-in-law) as a sidekick. Attagaru is a 
charming, naive, traditional woman who is also a busybody, which often lands her in trouble. 
Kodalu, the narrator, is also traditional in that she is respectful towards her husband and his 
mother (the mother-in-law), and steps in only when her services as a mediator/arbitrator are 
needed. She appears to be enjoying a private joke of her own in the process though. She never 
talks back, never offers to take matters into her own hand unless and until it becomes absolutely 
necessary. In the story under reference, they plan a trip to Lord Venkateswara in Tirupati. During 
the trip the car breaks down, they end up in the home of a relative, attagaru is not fond of, and 
arrange a wedding by the end of their trip. The author succeeds in making each of the incidents 

The incongruities in our actions and the eccentricities in human nature are great stuff for humor. 
And, our beliefs and gods are no exception for a good laugh as you'll see in some of the 
irreverent comments in Bhanumati 's story. 

Like any other custom or tradition, humor in a given culture develops from its own environment. 
In that, demographics do play a huge role. When several members of a family — aged parents, 
sons and daughters-in-law and grandchildren — are thrown in together under one roof (Brady 
Bunch style), good sense of humor becomes a part of skills for coexistence, peaceful or not. In 
Telugu homes, we tease each other, poke fun at each other, and call each other names; and at the 
end of the day, all is well; no offense intended, none taken. 


Secondly, with the progress of civilization, the code of conduct has put a rigid barrier between 
people and clouded our sense of humor to a certain degree, I think. But if one wants to have good 
hearty laugh, one must be prepared to laugh and be laughed at with equal ease. That is a 
prerequisite to foster one's sense of humor. These stories illustrate this point. 

Bhanumati was the first female writer to write humor fiction in the sixties, and earn a permanent 
place in the history of Telugu literature. Apart from her unparalleled stature in the movie 
industry, she made her mark as a writer of humor fiction with just under three dozen or so. 

Bhanumati has written a few serious stories also but her humor stories revolving around attagaru, 
a mother-in-law, is the one that has become the hallmark of her writing. While almost every 
critic would agree that Bhanumati 's creation of the mother-in-law character is unique, it is often 
left just at that. 

It may sound illogical but humor fiction is not taken seriously. More often than not, the message 
is lost between the laughs, the stories invoke. Bhanumati' s stories belong in that category. Her 
mother-in-law stories reflect her belief in tradition and family values. Her stories brim with her 
belief in god, astrology, and a host of others 

Bhanumati draws her humor primarily from situations and the idiosyncrasies of people in their 
everyday lives. And she never missed a chance to take a jab at our customs and beliefs, which 
however is not to be interpreted as disrespect for tradition. 

Bhanumati 's talent in creating humorous situations speaks of her keen eye for the incongruities 
in human behavior. One good example is well portrayed in her 'Attagaru - avakaya" (Attagaru 
and pickles). 

In general, attagaru does not let anyone see her food plate; she sits on the floor facing the wall, 
with her back to the rest of the world. "The only way one could know what she was eating was to 
jump out of the wall in front of her, like Lord Narasimha," the narrator comments. 

For those who are not familiar with the reference, lord Narasimha was one of the ten 
incarnations; he jumped out of a pillar to prove his existence to a non-believer demon king 
Hiranyakasipu. The parallel is a stretch but the point is the overextended shield her mother-in- 
law would create at the time of eating her supper in the name of madi — a custom in Brahmin 

The narrator continues to describe a second instance, the family members will know what she is 
eating; that is when she moved the pickles jar: 

"The smell from her pickles extended beyond the kitchen walls and into the living room. ... One 
day, my husband sat down to eat, along with atta garu. 

She moved the pickles jar; and the smells exploded and filled the entire house." 
The husband blames it on the narrator and her incompetence as a housewife. 


"Huh! What's that smell? Is it the oranges' gone bad? Maybe not, uh, what a stench! Maybe 
the maid didn't clean the area after washing the dishes," my husband started yelling. Then he 
turned to me and said with a grimace, "Didn't you notice that? What're you doing sitting at home 
all day? Can't you take care of the cleaning, at least?" 

I was nearly dead by the time I had finished explaining to him that he was wrong in his 
assumption about the smell. (Bhanumati kathanikalu) 

Taken out of context, the husband's comment could ruffle a few women. In Bhanumati's story, 
the narrator was the one to have the last laugh; readers might even see a wink and a nod from her 
husband. Let us not forget that he was ridiculing his mother's pickles. 

The incongruities in our actions and the eccentricities in human nature are great stuff for humor. 
And, our beliefs and gods are no exception for a good laugh as we can see in some of the 
irreverent comments in the above story. A few common phrases such as apachaaram [sacrilege] 
are used sometimes seriously and at other times flippantly to make fun of those who take it a 
little too seriously. Bhanumati makes best use of this practice, and "tapping on one's own 
cheeks" as a way of offering an apology (lempalu vesukonu, lempalesukonu) is another phrase 
used in her stories. In other words, even gods and the sanctity surrounding gods are no exception 
in the realm of humor. Another example is attagaru's reference to the Lord Venkateswara as 
Venkanna (nickname) and comparing him to a neighbor in physical appearance and make up. 

Bhanumati used laughter itself as core theme in two stories, which are serious in nature. In 
jeevitamlo agaathaalu [The Depth of Darkness in Life] and telivitetala viluvalu [Value of Wits], 
both the protagonists, Rambabu and Rao, laugh incessantly, much to the dismay of the narrator. 

In the first story, jeevitamlo agaathaalu, the reader would come to know at the end that Rambabu 
was laughing to hide his pain; his wife was a hysteria patient and there was nothing he could do 
about it. In the second story, Rao would laugh incessantly but in this case it was a matter of 
habit. Additionally, in the latter story, the narrator's husband and Rao call each other "fool" and 
neither was offended by this name calling. The story ended with the narrator commenting, "I 
stood there watching those two fools." 

Bhanumati's respect for tradition is evident in her use of the proper names. In our homes, people 
are often referred to by relational terminology — somebody' son, somebody's daughter-in-law, 
and somebody's daughter-in-law's daughter-in-law; and this is true even when two persons are 
cousins, two or three times removed. 

As all of us, Telugu people, Bhanumati would not mind laughing at herself. In her story, pedda 
aakaaraalu, chinna vikaaraalu [Big people and small idiosyncrasies], she gives a hilarious 
description of her fear of lizards: 

Bhanumati also, like Naraasimha Rao, creates hilarious scenes from everyday life; but, unlike 
Narasimha Rao, she narrates them while remaining complacent. Secondly, unlike the narrator in 
Kantham stories, the narrator in attagaru stories stays in control. We do not see her laughing but 


on rare occasions, the "I" of these stories seem to enjoy a private joke of her own while playing 
the innocent bystander. 

A brief note on the names is in order here. Proper names are often abbreviated. More 
importantly, the relational terminology is used in place of proper names, which could be 
confusing for non-native speakers, or when the same term is used with reference to more than 
one person. 

For instance, in "Attaa-kodaleeyam" there were three daughters-in-law and a son (the original 
attagaru's son and the husband of the narrator/kodalu). Mother refers to him as abbayi (by 
attagaru), and the narrator refers to him as maavaaru(meaning 'my husband' but his real name 
was never given in the story. In fact, in this particular story, all the characters were referred to 
only in relation to each other, even when they were cousins two or three times removed. (See 
glossary under relational terminology for further clarification). 

This usage of relational terminology in the case of distant relatives could be a way of bringing 
them together and of reinforcing family values. For the purpose of clarification in this discussion, 
I decided to leave 'attagaru' as is, she being the protagonist. The story is narrated in first person 
by kodalu (daughter-in-law) and, I used 'kodalu' as a proper name for her. Her co -daughter-in- 
law (todikodalu) and her daughter-in-law (kodalu of todikodalu) also figure in to the story. 
(Bhanumati used the comic side of the relational terminology as her theme in another story, vavi 

Another angle to the proper names, as a form of address, is "calling each other names". 
Bhanumati takes it to a new level in her story, telivitetala viluvalu [The Worth of Intellect]. The 
title seem to be a little off base. The core theme is the form of address as used by two friends, 
(narrator's husband and his friend, Rao) to address each other as 'fool' and laugh at each other. 
Rao's son-in-law gets involved in a scooter accident and Rao tells the narrator about the accident 
with a big laugh; and again when the narrator and her husband to go to the hospital to visit the 
son-in-law, the two friends talk about the accident, laughing and calling each other, "fool". The 
narrator stands there "watching the two fools". 

In "Radha-Gopalam", the author gives the characters acceptable proper names. Additionally, he 
uses a few perfectly legitimate proper names like Ramanatham or Gurunatham as punch lines. 
Further discussion of this is given in the story. 

In "Nenu-Kantham", the husband is the narrator; his real name is never mentioned. 

Second person singular pronoun has two forms in Telugu, meeru and nuvvu. Within a family, 
seniors who're respected (father, grandfather, for instance) are addressed as 'meeru'. This is not 
a hard and fast rule though. Kodalu always addresses attagaru as 'meeru' and attagaru addresses 
kodalu as 'nuvvu'. Wife addresses husband as 'meeru' and husband addresses wife as 'nuvvu'. 
This protocol is maintained in the stories of the fifties and sixties. The peculiar part however is, a 
kodalu (the co-daughter-in-law in "attaa - kodaleeyam) or a wife (in Radha - Gopalam) may 
address the other person as 'meeru' and still engage in a lively banter, which may or may not be 
amiable, and adding one more shade of humor to it. 


Regarding technique, the three stories present ordinary events in a humorous light. In Kantham 
story, the narrative is tight: it opens with a husband upset with his wife; he refuses to eat at home 
to punish his wife; and the punishment turns out to be his, yet he acts like he has the upper hand. 
It is not easy create humor in such a negative atmosphere. The story is told in a straight forward 
manner, no unexpected twists and no shock value incidents. Narasimha Rao succeeds in bringing 
the funny side up, that's the strength of an established humor writer. 

In the Mother-in-law story, there is more than one plot. The story opens with a proposed 
pilgrimage to Tirupati by car, and as usual, the two main characters — mother-in-law and 
daughter-in-law — are thrown in together to the exclusion of the son/husband. The second plot 
includes a second daughter-in-law (todikodalu. I think Bhanumati did this on purpose. In general, 
the daughter-in-law's relationship with her mother-in-law is not confrontational in any of her 
stories under the running title, attagaari kathalu. Thus the author may have created the second 
daughter-in-law to reflect another side, a more common notion, a kind of love-hate relationship. 
They both get into heated arguments in one moment and are affable in the next moment. Notably 
the narrator (kodalu)herself never talked back to the mother-in-law and the mother-in-law never 
put down the daughter-in-law in this story or in any other story. And then, there is one more 
subplot, the arranged marriage; arranged by the mother-in-law and the second daughter-in-law in 
between their heated arguments and boisterous laughter. The narrator however does not lose 
touch with reality. The reality is "The two women are going to meet like two rival planets on a 
combat zone in the month of magham." In a way, three plots make the story less tight, compared 
to the Kantham story, but entertaining all the same. 

The story is, as indicated by the title, about relationship between atta and kodalu. The incidents 
follow in a lighter vein. The story of Radha and Gopalam takes this idea of a theme narrated in a 
lighter vein further. In fact, it is a story about sweet nothings. The underlying message is the 
secret of marital bliss. As long as a couple can laugh together, and at each other without malice, 
there is no cause for complaint in a marriage. All's well that ends well. Most of the humor in this 
story, unlike the other two, comes from its language and adolescent behavior of the couple. 

Most of the humor in Telugu stories comes from teasing, self-deprecation, and word play. 
Readers foreign to our culture may make an effort to understand teasing and self-deprecation as 
part of the culture, word play is hard to carry in to the translation. Stories like "Radha 's debt" are 
not translatable, "Mother-in-law's story" is a stretch, and, "Kantham and I" is comparatively 
easy to translate. It is important readers make a note of it. 




This article is inspired by a couple of emails I have received after I published my story, 
"Bilingual Kid" on my site []. My story was about a tutor 
who, while teaching English as Second Language to a non-native speaker, would suggest that the 
kid should stop speaking his mother tongue even at home. 

I received emails from a young woman who had attended in English medium school in Andhra 
Pradesh informing me of the humiliations and punishments she had been subjected to. That was 
an education for me. Having been away from the country for over 36 years, I was not aware of 
the craziness in the English medium schools until now. 

Then I started looking harder at the issue. Much to my surprise, some of the professors in a local 
college pointed out to me that the English teaching methods/policies put in place in America in 
the early 1900's. I learned that the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] started schools to teach 
American Indian [Native American] children with the sole purpose of "civilizing" and 
"assimilation" of the children of the native tribes [American Indians] into the white world. 
Simply stated, it was meant to make young American Indian children to accept the white men's 
beliefs and value systems. Their stated policies included uniforms appropriate for the white 
men's world and punishing the children, if they spoke their native 
tongue. ( for full text). 

Despite the apparent similarities, there is a difference. In America, the dissension was between 
two races, the white America and the American Indians. In Andhra Pradesh, it is one race — the 
Andhra people. The imposition of English on Telugu children in Andhra Pradesh schools did not 
come from outside. We are doing to our own children. To me, that is unconscionable! 

During my visits to Andhra Pradesh, I have noticed Americanization in every aspect — toys, 
textbooks, teaching methods, attitudes, clothing, electronics, aspirations, pursuits, careers, not to 
mention the language, which is a curious mix of Telugu with heavily accented Indian English ... 

Until now, I prided myself on the fact that in my country even the illiterate could speak two or 
three languages at functional level at least. Most of our writers in my generation were 
knowledgeable in three or four languages. The situation is quite different now. The illiterate like 
auto rickshaw drivers can speak two or three languages while the children in the schools are 
being taught to speak only one language and that is English! 


During my Intermediate years [two-year, pre-degree course] I opted to learn Sanskrit. The 
teacher was a scholar who had studied Sanskrit through traditional learning and thus his English 
learning was minimal. Therefore, he taught us Sanskrit in Telugu medium. However, since 
English was the medium of instruction, we were required to write the exam in English. In other 
words, the language I was learning was Sanskrit, the medium in which we were taught Sanskrit 
was Telugu, and our expertise in Sanskrit was tested in English! And, none of us questioned the 
propriety of this system, nor were we outraged, much less complained. Today I am glad I took 
that class and happy I know some Sanskrit at least. 

Having said that let me refer back to the article on BIA schools. The Bureau and the parents 
eventually realized that it would not work and decided to revise their policy. In 1926, the Meriam 
Report's recommendations included among several others: 

Do away with "The Uniform Course of Study," which stressed only the cultural values of whites. 

The Indian Service must provide youth and parents with tools to adapt to both the white and 
Indian world. 

"The Depression had finally benefited Indian people, not because of their unique plight, but 
because they were at last a part of a national plight. . . . Indian education should be rooted in the 
community and should stress the values of native culture," commented the author. "Children 
learned through the medium of their own cultural values while becoming aware of the values of 
white civilization. . . . [American] Indian schools introduced Indian history, art, and language," 
he further elaborated. 

After I finished reading the article quoted above, I started wondering what does it take for the 
school administrators, parents, the elite, and the government of Andhra Pradesh to realize that 
they can teach children the English language along with their mother tongue Telugu, which is 
also state's official language, and not to the exclusion of? 

(Later I realized that this article has been copied and posted on other sites. It would appear that 
on rare occasions, stories provoke people into thinking!) 


American Indian Education Foundation. "History of Indian Education in the US." 
http ://w ww . aiefpro grams . or g/history facts/history. html . Downloaded 2/22/2003. 

Reese, Debbie, et. al. Fiction Posing as Truth. Rethinking Our Classrooms. A Critical Review of 
Ann Rinnaldi's My Heart is On the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl. 

www .rethinkingschools .org/ archive/ 13 04/ review . shtml . Downloaded 2/20/2002. 



Malathi Nidadavolu, originally from Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India, moved to 
America in 1973. She has been writing fiction in Telugu since early fifties. After arriving in 
America, she continues to write in Telugu and English. 

Malathi has Masters' in English Language and Literature, and in Library and Information 
Sciences. She taught Telugu at UW-Madison, Wisconsin for over 15 years. Currently working 
full-time on her writing original fiction and analytical articles, tranaslating and managing her 
website and blogs. 

Website and blogs: 

In June 200 1 , Malathi started her website, where she translates and publishes 
eminent Telugu fiction and analytical essays. The web site has been quoted as a useful source for 
researchers and students of multicultural studies by several academic institutions. 

Also, runs two blogs: , featuring her original stories and articles in Telugu. , featuring her original stories and articles in English. 

Published: 1. nijaanikiifeminijaanikee madhya, a collection of Malathi's original stories. 

A Spectrum of My People, an anthology of Telugu stories by reputable writers, translated by 
Malathi N. Mumbai: Jaico Publishing House, 2006. republished as Short stories from Andhra 
Pradesh. 2008. 

Telugu Women Writers, 1950-1975, Andhra Pradesh, India. (A Critical Review of the 
phenomenal success of Telugu women writers in the post-independent Andhra Pradesh). Author, 
2008. Contact malathini(a> for copies. 

From my Front Porch: Short stories from Andhra Pradesh, (A Collection of Eminent Telugu 
fiction translated by Malathi. Delhi, Sahitya Akademi, 2009) 

Quiet and Quaint, Telugu Women 's Writing, 1950-1975, a critical study. Hyderabad: Potti 
Sreeramulu Telugu University. 2010. 

Chatakapakshulu. (A Telugu novel illustrating the immigrant life in the U.S. in the seventies). 
Vijayawada: Sahiti, 2009 

Kathala attayyagaru and other stories original Telugu stories by Malathi. Hyderabad: 
Visalandhra Publishing House, 2010. 

Telugu Penscape: Anthology of Telugu short stories, translated by Malathi Nidadavolu. 
Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh: Lekhini Sahiti Samiti, 201 1. 

Malathi is grateful to her father Jagannatha Rao and mother Seshamma who had been her 
mentors and greatest influences in defining her values. She has one daughter, Sarayu Rao, who 
has earned her Master's in Fine Arts and currently pursuing acting career in Hollywood.